Invent

Trade Secrets: Harvey Smith & Raphael Colantonio


Our stealth interview series kicks off with Arkane Studios’ Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio. Read their thoughts on the future of the stealth genre here!

 


Arkane Studios
Developer:
Harvey Smith (Co-creative Director of Dishonored)
Developer: Raphael Colantonio (President of Arkane Studios, Co-creative Director of Dishonored)
Game: Dishonored
Due: 2012
www.dishonored.com

 

Harvey Smith and Raphael Colantonio are both games industry veterans, having brought us Deus Ex and Arx Fatalis respectively. Now, they’re joining forces at Arkane Studios to develop Dishonored – a first-person stealth-action game set in a stunning steampunk world where the player’s abilities themselves border upon the arcane. Below, we extract their thoughts on the future of  the stealth genre.


Sneaky Bastards: What is it that attracts you to stealth gameplay?

Raf: The great thing about stealth gameplay is the feeling of being somewhere I’m not allowed to be. The excitement that arises from the fear of getting caught, feeling like a predator. All of these things are emotions that we all felt as kids, playing hide and seek, or sneaking in the ‘forbidden’ room of the house.

Harvey: Yes, totally. And in games, there’s something satisfying about the tension that comes from toying with imperfect AI awareness, knowing that a stressful moment can turn violent. I’ve heard some of the guys who worked on Thief say, “surfing the edges of the AI’s awareness,” and “sublime tension.” Both are great ways of summing up the experience of playing those games, which are among some of our favorites.

Raf: Also, we both really love eavesdropping on characters in the world, gathering little bits of color.


Why do you think stealth games fell out of popularity?

Harvey: I think the “fantasy” of sneaking and spying is evergreen in terms of interest. And stealth is always a rich area for cool game mechanics, especially as developers look for new elements to model or simulate. But I think it’s a harder thing to pull off; balancing a game with stealth is a bit of a challenge. This is especially true of a game that allows combat and stealth as options at any time.

Raf: I don’t know that they have really fallen out of popularity, unless you’re referring to strictly stealth-centric games. I would say that a lot of recent games have integrated stealth as a tool, or one option. So the gameplay has merged with existing genres: Uncharted 3, Far Cry 2, Deus Ex 3, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, etc.


What are your thoughts on stealth gameplay being included as one possible path or playstyle, as opposed to the main focus of a game?

Raf: This is the approach we’re taking with Dishonored: you can chose a stealth approach or attack head on, or in combination. My personal thought on this is that it supports simulation and player choice, which is always a good thing from our standpoint.

Harvey: One could argue that the game is stronger with a pure focus on stealth, but like Raf said we find it more interesting when a range of options present themselves. To us, the most interesting games constantly present the player with inputs and outputs that work in as many general cases as possible: gradients related to movement, powers/weapons, morality, and enemy perception. So many things can happen in that environment that the end result feels like something the player authored. Personally, I think analogue awareness would add to many games. If I play a zombie apocalypse game or a shooter, I really want to be able to play cat and mouse. Far Cry 2 is one of my favorite shooters of all time, for instance.


The most interesting games constantly present the player with inputs and outputs that work in as many general cases as possible: gradients related to movement, powers/weapons, morality, and enemy perception.


What would a way forward for stealth gameplay be?

Raf: For one, better player perception/awareness of his environment/state. So far, in first-person or third-person stealth games, there is often an ambiguity when it comes to “Am I hidden right now? Can I be heard?” So we often rely on UI like stealth gems, NPC emoticons, etc, as a means of conveying that feedback. It would be great to only rely exclusively on NPC behaviors and environmental affordance, but that would require a crazy high level of fidelity before we could get away with these things without using UI.

Harvey: I’m an optimist. I think it just comes down to lots of teams iterating on various approaches. Right now we see a few realistically-presented, immersive attempts at allowing for sneaking every few years, and occasionally we see some more abstract arcade-style ‘avoid detection’ games, but it would be cool if more people were trying different things; something more modal might be interesting, too, alternating between the two approaches. Seeing more teams escape the military/soldier fiction and still work on stealth mechanics would be interesting. Aside from Dishonored or any of the other stealth-oriented games coming, look at indie games like Monaco or Spy Party, both of which play with perception, timing and subterfuge in very different ways. Imagine if you hosted some kind of stealth game jam, offset by 6 months with the current game jam. Imagine what people might do with that as a focus.


Thanks, Raf and Harvey! Trade Secrets continues tomorrow with a new stealth interview – we’ll be seeing you.

Daniel Hindes

Further Investigation
The Sound of Silence
How important is sound to Dishonored's stealth gameplay? The answers are in this Q&A with Co-Creative Director Harvey Smith, and a video that shows Dishonored's stealth in motion!
READ MORE
The Man In The Iron Mask
Become a masked, supernatural assassin in this exclusive exploration of the stealth approach in Arkane Studios' immersive sim, Dishonored.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Patrick Redding
Trade Secrets: The Stealth Interview Series concludes by way of a chat with Patrick Redding, Game Director on the next Splinter Cell title currently in development at Ubisoft Toronto.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Tom Francis
Gunpoint's Tom Francis sneaks in to the Trade Secrets stealth interview series to give us his idea of a Psychic Hitman.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Frank van Gemeren
Project Stealth's Producer, Frank van Gemeren, tells us ghosting is the ultimate form of stealth gameplay in this Trade Secrets stealth interview.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Alex Quick
Depth Team's lead developer, Alex Quick, talks the thrill of multiplayer stealth in today's Trade Secrets stealth interview.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Bruno Bulhoes
Aduge Studio's Bruno Brulhoes talks pacing and platforming in the fourth-last Trade Secrets stealth interview.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Nels Anderson
Klei Entertainment's Nels Anderson sneaks in to the Trade Secrets stealth interview series to talk voyeurism, planning and secret identities.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Michal Marcinkowski
Trade Secrets continues with the creator of sidescrolling multiplayer shooters Soldat and Link-Dead, Michal Marcinkowski.
READ MORE
Trade Secrets: Andy Schatz
Our stealth interview series continues with Pocketwatch Games' Andy Schatz, developer of top-down heist game Monaco.
READ MORE
The Sound of Silence
The Man In The Iron Mask
Trade Secrets: Patrick Redding
Trade Secrets: Tom Francis
Trade Secrets: Frank van Gemeren
Trade Secrets: Alex Quick
Trade Secrets: Bruno Bulhoes
Trade Secrets: Nels Anderson
Trade Secrets: Michal Marcinkowski
Trade Secrets: Andy Schatz

3 Responses to Trade Secrets: Harvey Smith & Raphael Colantonio

  1. By Linkage, March 26, 2012 at 6:43 am

    Good interview! Looking forward to the rest of this series, and it seems a great idea to get a look at what a bunch of different developers all think of the stealth genre, considering it’s something not talked about heaps these days.

    Only complaint is I would have loved this interview to be longer!

  2. By tetracycloide, March 30, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    “So far, in first-person or third-person stealth games, there is often an ambiguity when it comes to “Am I hidden right now? Can I be heard?” So we often rely on UI like stealth gems, NPC emoticons, etc, as a means of conveying that feedback. ”

    You know what, why not just embrace the ambiguity? It certainly opens up opportunities for interesting AI mechanics like NPCs that pretend they don’t know where you are while trying to trade you without letting on. If that kind of behavior made it into stealth games… WOW would that be awesome or what? Outsmarting the enemy in a game like that would feel soooo satisfying. So I want to see someone make a game without stealth gems or overacted NPC reactions or straight up emoticons and I honestly don’t think you should constantly and reliably give the player feedback on their status. That ambiguity of ‘am I hidden or not’ is at the heart of what makes games like Hide’N'Seek or Manhunt so thrilling while you hide.

    • By Daniel Hindes, April 5, 2012 at 1:01 am

      It’s definitely an interesting direction stealth games could take, but they always need to balance that with some sort of logical feedback for players to make informed decisions on. Remember that stealth games are often about giving the player superior information rather than superior abilities – it’s very important that such information is readable, otherwise the player is left with a frustrating sense of hopelessness.

      That said, I think vague NPC reactions would work great for stealth in horror games like Amnesia, where your opponents are only semi-human to begin with. Fear and ambiguity go hand-in-hand.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Taffer Tweets

One of us!

Want to become a Sneaky Bastard? Send a sample article to taffer@sneakybastards.net

Alert your friends to our presence:

Scroll to top