Redefining the Stealth Genre
Before I begin, I’d like to mention that this is not an argument against Conviction, but rather my idea on the stealth genre as a whole, and the way I feel that developers can create a game that not only appeals to the casual audience but also allows the hardcore audience to feel happy about their purchase. I provide a little intro below.
Quick intro of how this idea came about: I’ve always enjoyed gaming, and like most gamers I’ve always been tinkering with ideas on how they could be better. I’ve always had this idea floating around in my head, and I guess until now, had kept it hidden for fear it would be stolen. After completing my schooling for drafting, I was able to get a full version of AutoCAD 2007, and with the help of a buddy who knew DarkBASIC programming, I began to develop and express my idea to him. I also began to use AutoCAD to create the 3D environments, objects, and with the help of Blender and Anim8or create animations and characters and eventually everything was converted to something he could use. Anyways, we were determined to make this idea into something “somewhat” of a reality, and perhaps even present it to a company that could polish it and reap financial rewards. But we were young and dumb, with too high of expectations, and eventually we found after nearly a year of development our idea had gone no where. His 3D programming skills just weren’t up to the task; we didn’t have time and eventually found hobbies elsewhere. All the work was lost, unfortunately, because I’ve tinkered with the idea of restarting, but now I’ve come to the point where I’d just like to talk about it and see what people think. I don’t think it’s feasible from an indie development standpoint, but I still think overall my idea was pretty good, and I’m just curious as to if something similar could have been created if it would have been successful.
Today’s market trend is heading toward a more action oriented audience, leaving hardcore gamers a choice of either accepting or moving elsewhere. But that’s the wrong approach, and that rather we should approach with just this thought: choice. I imagine a stealth game as I’ll explain in the next few paragraphs, as something that allows the player to be the avatar, and the player’s personality will flow through them. Meaning, a player who prefers to sneak can easily sneak, a player who wants to run and gun can do so, and a player who will look at each situation with an open mind to either has those same options.
In this way, you can account for the casual audience, and by thoughtful level planning also allows hardcore users to play as they see fit. It’s also important to award players who take the more difficult approach, which normally would be the shadows. But then, we can also take this one step further and expand just beyond run and gun, and the shadows, and we begin to pull in other stealth games so that players who enjoy games such as Hitman can use the same “disguise” techniques.
Now, it would seem to most people that creating a level around this would be difficult, and perhaps so, but there is a simple way to create a lot of freedom, and it’s by simply disregarding the whole idea of levels. And by doing so, we also throw another idea at the game that’s popular to the gaming crowds, free roaming environments. Before I go farther, I want to state that in some ways the expectations for this game are high, but I don’t think necessarily out of reach in the near future, maybe even the next generation of gaming consoles.
This isn’t necessarily something that could work as a Splinter Cell title per se, but perhaps could lay a basis as an example, and was also the main story around which I had for our game.
Basically, we have this company called Eden (tagline of game: Come Play in the Garden of Eden). And it’s owned by a man who inherited it from his father after the elder passed from cancer. The company was a research and development company for military weapons (how cliché), but behind the scenes is some biological interests that are illegal. After his father passed, he began to put lots of resources into developing a cure for cancer which eventually evolved into studying biological weaponry, human cloning, and further more reanimation after death. Now this wouldn’t be a zombie game, and thus no success would have been found in that area, but basically we’d find that this is a corrupt company, fueling it’s funding for illegal research through supplying terrorists’ weapons, and a CEO who doesn’t care what happens. Think Sam Fisher’s anger from his daughters death, but instead he’s the CEO of this huge corporation who’s hell bent on finding a cure.
As a spy, you’re undercover inside this building trying to find out exactly what’s going on as far as the research, eventually find this secret laboratory with illegal research, find hints of biological weapons being used by terrorist organizations, a huge counterfeiting scheme. Perhaps we could say that the CEO is angry at the American government for X reason and that it led to his father’s death, and thus he wants to destroy America or something.
Then I thought of having the ending come to a point where the CEO has all these men come to kill you, retrieve all the illegal cash, and it turns into a hostage situation where his men are after you, you’re after the CEO and stopping the money from leaving on a helicopter, must free the hostages, and the police are also outside sweeping the building looking for not only the CEO’s men, but because they don’t realize who you are, potentially they are a threat to you. I wanted there to be a definite end, because multiple endings are cool, but I’d rather have multiple ways to get there, with the same overall outcome except for maybe a few changes, because otherwise you find that creating a sequel is hard because you can’t cater to two endings.
So basically, to make this work and allow the freedom, I envisioned this huge skyscraper called Eden Towers, which is a mix between rental properties owned by companies, large ballrooms, hotels, businesses, the main corporate offices for Eden Inc., as well as kitchens, bathrooms, etc. Between each floor there’d also be a ventilation system. As hard as it is to believe, I did actually have everything created in AutoCAD.
The game world would progress through day and night, with daytime having normal civilian activity, and at night the guards come out. Certain missions can only be during the day, others only at night, some during the day or night and different ways to approach depending. You’d also have schedules, so certain people left their offices certain times, etc. You would essentially be free to go anywhere in the tower and the surrounding outside.
What the environment allows is for a player to go any direction to reach the destination, rather its climbing outside the building, taking an elevator shaft, using the stairs, or taking the vents. Each would have pros and cons, perhaps an elevator only takes you so many floors or could come down on top of you, and maybe the stairs are too slow for occasion or the vents too loud. Simply put, take the scope of Grand Theft Auto as a city, down size it into a very detailed tower and surrounding area and add in more movements.
Imagine a scenario as simple as grabbing a victim to interrogate, eavesdropping, or killing. The scenario is the same, but if you do something one way you might get a different next mission. If you interrogate you may get more detailed information and be able to simply access a door with a keypad instead of finding another way around. If you interrogate, you might find a specific time someone might be somewhere or some other clue that can change the situation in the next mission. And if you simply kill the person, you might have to perform an extra step, or lose a chance at doing some mission without information. Or maybe if you don’t kill someone it might create a hassle later on for whatever reason. Rather than changing the outcome of the game by making a choice, it would alter your approach or alter your progress to getting the outcome, open up new paths of reward or access to new weaponry. Control wise, I’m thinking just copy Chaos Theory, and somehow add Mark and Execute, as it could be a cool feature.
Shadows: So these two guys are supposed to meet up, but you want to get the information first, so you approach the guy in the bathroom, grab him from behind, interrogate, knock out or kill, dump his body in the dumpster out back or hide it somewhere. Maybe you find out the password to a door for your next mission.
- Ballroom or dining hall: Move from under table to under another table using the table cloths as cover.
- Grab a victim from inside an elevator and pull him up.
- Use other classic Splinter Cell situations, they’re numerous.
Disguise: So, you find out from a previous mission these two guys are meeting during the day in a specific office. You sneak behind a window washer, knock him out and pull his body away and swap outfits. Climb up to their window and listen in.
- Security Guard outfit gives access to specific areas without alert.
- Get access to kitchen to poison food.
- Access a hotel room a previous night and flood the bathtub, creating a leak, then you access the room below the next day when that person complains.
- Civilian just talking to a suspect at the local bar.
- Think of lots of Hitman situations.
Action: Instead of approaching the guys to listen, you decide to just kill them both, perhaps from close range or across the street from behind the barrel of a sniper.
- Imagine this huge aquarium you could jump into it from above, then shoot out the glass from inside and kill everyone.
- Or maybe you use some type of grappling hook to crash through a window on the 23rd floor from the 30th and go in shooting.
- If you can do it in the shadows or in a disguise, you’ll just kill instead to get results.
Now we take those approaches and spin them with extras, such as hacking to interact with the environment. Stop elevators, turn off stage lights, access remote email accounts, or shutdown power to the whole city block…But I envision hacking as more than simply go to computer and push A. I envision an actual system, so that from any computer I can get the same results, but that maybe an office computer may take a few extra steps or be extremely difficult to turn the city block off to. Maybe a person who does more sneaking would have better luck with a high XP on hacking and could hack more difficult things from a different part of the network. Example: Computer in office might take 200 skill points to turn off the power to a specific floor of the building. However, getting access to the mainframe and hacking from there might take 80, and when you max out you can hack anything.
Perhaps, by performing side missions you could get more XP or access to better disguises or more information. Maybe something as simple as helping a lady catch her husband in his office intimate with his secretary could get you access to some new information. Maybe fetching some clothes for the hobo in the middle of a cold night (when the stores are closed) could get you some much needed gossip, stuff that doesn’t necessarily push the story forward, but rather allows for more approaches.
Breathing Life Into The Game: In Grand Theft Auto, and I hate to be cliché, the atmosphere has a lot to do with the overall game world and how they bring it to life. This is where the humor of the game comes, crashing into an occupied hotel room, crashing the set of the news channel in the building, finding emails while hacking the computer systems, or perhaps disguising as a masseuse for a victim and giving them a massage and suddenly squeezing on their neck to kill them or interrogate.
A game of this scope is difficult, as I said earlier, even for the largest production studios. But a part of me believes, with the scope of major AAA titles these days, that something could be possible. I guess in a lot of ways, the game’s inspired by classic Splinter Cells, Hitman, Conviction, Assassins Creed, and taking in the new trends of gaming such as large environments, more RPG elements, and complex choice systems.
But beyond simply creating a game of this scope brings about some serious design issues. First, how to seamlessly bring everything together with so many complex ways of approaching each situation and having them affect others. But games like Mass Effect show that creating complex story lines that affect the outcome can be done, even on large scope.
Next, is simply the realism. If we’re sneaking around killing people, and people are going missing, being interrogated, or something is fishy, someones bound to notice, especially in an office setting where gossip is present. If people keep dieing, people aren’t going to return to their jobs, and if you kill someone in broad daylight and everyone flees, your not going to simply return the next day to the same location to do the next mission as though everythings normal. People will be panicked, police will barricade the locations. Sure you could virtually hide out for a few days, and the game could skip forward to a time everyone returns to their job, but the second another individual dies, somethings going to be up, eventually the building will close.
Sure this is an issue all games have, especially Assassins Creed and Grand Theft Auto where you can do something that realistically would cause unsurpassed panic and damage, but return later and everything is peachy clean and normal. One thought is to simply have carpenters return to areas you destroy and after a few minutes, the game resets the room to normal as though the carpenters or janitors fixed the room, but on this scale its impossible. To a degree, I think maybe you’d have to simply just accept the unrealistic nature of people going about their jobs as though nothing is wrong and room returning to normal, bodies disappearing, etc the second you leave for awhile.
And of course, we have the whole schedules system, which would be nearly impossible to account for. I thought things such as having the hotel system randomize rooms that are occupied, but simply having all these schedules and time periods, occupancies, etc, were simply overwhelming. Then you also have the whole fact of accounting for people leaving, and the very real possibility you could follow someone throughout their day…essentially you’d have to have a pattern for nearly every person in the building to follow and doing so would be impossible. You also wouldn’t want to have the computer randomize so much that the second you leave an office and return the person is gone. It’s a very different scenario than Assassins Creed, because there you just have people randomly wandering. Here you have purpose for people, if that makes sense.
Overall, I know there’s a lot of flaws with this whole design, it’s way too large in scope, but overall, I think the idea of a free roaming stealth game in this form, rather than such as Assassins Creed would make a great game. I think the technology is available to do something of this scope, simply taking a look at GTA, Assassins Creed, all Splinter Cells, and Mass Effect and even Oblivion. Just my thoughts, and if anyone felt like reading, I wonder if you think this is a good direction for stealth to go. Now that I’m pretty much aware of the design being too much for one or two people (obviously, how could I have been dumb enough to think we could), I’m just curious on if this was even a good idea.
Admittedly I have not read everything you posted because it is rather late and I am short on time but I will say that much of what you described as "choice" is part of the game Crysis. It can be played like a Juggernaut (you know, Master Chief on easy mode with infinite grenades against a sea of grunts, so to speak) or it can be played like a sniper with a ghillie suit (Sam Fisher style, for lack of better words). That is what most appealed to me about the game. It is also semi-free roam. By this I mean that, while there are different levels, the maps for said levels are MASSIVE and allow for the player to take any and all routes he/she desires to reach his/her destination. The game and its sequel, Crysis: Warhead, both delivered all of these qualities FLAWLESSLY. With that said, I would like to see a splinter cell game that did so as well or perhaps even a shooter MMO that incorporated a splinter-cell-like class as its main stealth gameplay.