[one_third]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![/one_third]
Developer: Harvey Smith (Co-creative Director of Dishonored)
Developer: Raphael Colantonio (President of Arkane Studios, Co-creative Director of Dishonored)
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.
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.