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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.


Project Stealth Team
Developer:
Frank van Gemeren (Producer)
Game: Project Stealth
Due: 2012
www.projectstealthgame.com

 

It seems we’re not the only ones who fell in love with Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow’s Versus mode. Project Stealth is an attempt to recreate that amazing asymmetrical multiplayer stealth experience in the Unreal Engine, and it’s coming along swimmingly. The team’s Producer, Frank van Gemeren, speaks to us about how shorter attention spans may have impacted on stealth gaming’s popularity.


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

van Gemeren: The current world is a fast place. We expect instant gratification in almost all everyday things: no queues at helpdesks, no waiting at the grocery store, overnight parcel delivery with our latest game and so on. This transitions to the digital world too: fast internet browsers, fast loading pages, no lag.

Most games make use of this ever-faster way of thinking: racing games where every millisecond counts, playing first-person shooters with all graphical niceties turned off for the highest frames per second, and getting a higher actions-per-minute for real-time strategy games.

I think stealth games are a welcome change in that world, because you are forced to wait and to study an enemy’s patrol route and work out a way to get from point A to B. This counts for double when the protagonist doesn’t have much offensive capabilities or is heavily outgunned, like in Velvet Assassin or Splinter Cell. Games where stealth is important but not necessarily the only way to play, like Deus Ex, can still be fun when you’re limiting yourself to a certain playstyle.

My personal satisfaction comes from totally ghosting a game: not being noticed by anyone and leaving behind no traces. However, this has to be fun to figure out. If it is possible, but the process is tedious, it’s no fun and I change my playstyle to make it more fun. That’s what gaming is about.


Why do you think stealth games fell out of popularity?

When the audience changed from the lone teenage boy or older computer nerd to all kinds of people, including younger kids and housewives, the games changed. When it comes to stealth games, the rise in accessibility of gaming as the result of easy-to-access consoles changed the audience and made it less popular for publishers to back stealth games. However, the games that already had a good backing are still able to get good sales, like Thief, Hitman and the Metal Gear series. Of course, the type of stealth used differs from game to game.

So stealth games are just as popular as before, but the aim of the big companies has been on more profitable genres. You can see in the latest Kickstarter from Double Fine that there are still big slumbering communities of “unpopular” genres, waiting for the right time and game.


You can see in the latest Kickstarter from Double Fine that there are still big slumbering communities of “unpopular” genres, waiting for the right time and game.


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

Stealth can be used for all kinds of experiences: from a chapter in an action game where you have to sneak up to a sniper, to a cinematic where the hero silently takes out or sneaks by a guard, to the main focus of the game. There’s no right or wrong. It can be a good addition if the situation calls for it.

If stealth is the only way, the game might appeal to less people, so from a marketing point of view, you might lose potential customers. There’s generally a lot of tactics and a steep learning curve involved, so learning from the mistakes of other stealth games is crucial to boost your player base. The more players, the more attention – and, if you’re getting funded, more money for development. The ideal situation would be to have an accessible game (not easy!) that is easy to learn and hard to master.


What would a way forward for stealth gameplay be?

Stealth gameplay is currently very black and white. Either you have stealth elements or you don’t. Most action games could benefit from extra secret passages to make the player explore the environment. Then it’s up to the player to decide whether to sneak by or kill the guards from behind. As an extra bonus, the time in the game is lengthened and the player gets to appreciate more of the work of the artists. Easter eggs and other funny things help a lot with that. The latest trend in social integration and achievements are a good way to try people to explore more. However, the exploring itself should also be satisfying. Exploring just to get achievements shouldn’t be the goal.

A way forward would be to get more stealth elements in non-stealth games, and more “bigger” titles as stealth games with a proper marketing budget and quality. Stories are important and getting back to the core of the game, be it line-of-sight, light and shadow or social stealth. This last thing is something that is a big issue to me personally, because the balance of twitchy trigger-finger styles versus patrol-route puzzles has been off in recent games that called themselves stealth games. Also, experimentation is always good. Don’t be afraid to fail. And most of all, make a challenging game that drives you nuts and that gives satisfaction just before it gets annoying.


Thanks, Frank! Return to the Trade Secrets hub for previous interviews, or come back tomorrow for a special, bonus interview!

Daniel Hindes

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