Stealth Mechanics You Love and Hate

Discussion in 'Discussions' started by OllyOllyBennett, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. OllyOllyBennett

    OllyOllyBennett Cardboard Sword Developer

    The Siege and the Sandfox is a 'stealthvania' - classic Metroidvania open world exploration, meets stealth gameplay. So naturally stealth is a major element of our game.

    There are plenty of stealth games out there - though few 2D - so there's lots of places to get inspiration. Our whole team loves stealth games to some degree or other. Myself, I started really with the original Tenchu. I used to spend hours on each level, planning and perfecting my route through it so I'd never be seen. However, I've found that as I've gotten older I have reduced patience for pure ghosting through stealth games. I'll try to ghost first, but if I get spotted or heard, I'll just say 'ah well' and slice or shoot my way to victory; as was especially the case with the latest Metal Gear. Ed and Keith, our artists, on the other hand, will hardcore ghost every stealth game they play.

    Big inspirations for our game were definitely Mark of the Ninja and the original Thief games. We currently plan to have sound circles to indicate noise levels, and 'last known position' options, so the player can tell where the enemies think you may be. We are still pre-alpha though, so nothing's final yet.

    So what stealth games do you love or hate, and what mechanics within them did you feel really worked, or didn't?
    • Pilchenstein

      Pilchenstein Ketchup Robot

      Some games with really good stealth are the Arkham series (though that's more stealth combat) and the latest Hitman game (even if it does suffer somewhat from random NPC head turning causing unpredictable instant-detection states). What makes them work so well is they provide plenty of feedback on how and why you risk being detected and they're (mostly) consistent in behaviour, which lets you decide how risky you want to be when playing.

      Bad stealth games is probably a much, much longer list, but the two that immediately spring to mind are the new Deus Ex series (they suffer for having to cater to multiple playstyles, so stealth is mostly possible without any of the upgrades and the upgrades themselves just trivialise sneaking) and The Secret World (tried to shoehorn stealth missions into an engine that clearly wasn't built for them and littered instant-kill traps everywhere).

      As far as mechanics go, the most important thing is feedback - good stealth works because you understand why you are or aren't detected, bad stealth is frustrating because you don't understand where you went wrong or don't feel like there's anything you can do to improve.
      • ShneekeyTheLost

        ShneekeyTheLost Master Astronaut

        I did notice, and approve of, the influence from Mark of the Ninja, in particular, some things I thought the game really did right:

        * You can easily see if you screwed up. There's no accusations of the game being 'unfair', if your footsteps reach the mook, you've been heard. Everything you do, you see the immediate consequences to your actions. This is where some of the stealth games can really fail, because they're trying to create 'artificial difficulty' (a.k.a. 'the computer is a cheating bastard'), which leads to the player yelling "Aw, come on! How the HECK did that guy detect me?" and throwing their controller down in disgust. That can ruin a stealth game experience faster than anything I know.
        -- By that same token, the downside is that it makes it difficult to make some enemies have keener hearing, which would be an interesting dynamic. Maybe layered sounds, where 'dull hearing' enemies can only hear the brightest layer, most enemies can hear the middle layer, and keen-eared (such as dogs and the like) can hear out to the third? This would let you customize your scenes a bit better, and have a more realistic blend of enemies. A dog with a couple of bruisers that have poor hearing, but if the dog hears you then the bruisers will be alerted, so dealing with the dog becomes the priority to sneak past. That sort of thing. An additional layer of complexity without an additional layer of grief.

        * It Isn't Boring! Where many stealth games fail, and virtually every single stealth section in a non-stealth game (such as that dungeon in Zelda: Windwaker) is that you have to wait for your perfect moment. And wait. And wait some more. Your player should always be engaged in your game, brain activated. And being able to create the 'perfect moment' is great. There can certainly be some timing, but it shouldn't force the player to wait forever for that timing to trigger. For example, the multiple patrols problem where you have to wait for them all to line up in a certain way, and they are different lengths, can cause several minutes of waiting before the player goes. It has to iterate at least once for the player to understand how they interact, then at least one more time before he can go. If that iteration is more than about 20-30 seconds, reconsider the scene to make it more fast-paced. Because waiting two minutes to be able to act? Is too long.

        * Multiple solutions for every encounter. You can do the 'stealth' solution of sneaking past, you can execute, you can go 'loud and proud' (although quite difficult), it is up to you how to solve the scenarios with multiple possible solutions. Which can then lead into a Dishonored style multiple potential endings depending on the choices you made during your run, which gives Completionists something to strive for and leads to a higher degree of replay enjoyment. You can also give the Hardcore group extra challenge by unlocking achievements or ending scenes if they restrict themselves by not using certain sets of tools (i.e. how Dishonored's ending changed if you used magic versus if you did not, and in Dishonored 2 how you could just tell the dude 'I don't want your steenkin' magic'). This doesn't hurt gameplay for the more casual player, but does give additional incentive for the 'hardcore' and 'completionist' group.

        * Intuitive controls. I cannot state this heavily enough. If you want to do a game in this genre, you HAVE to make the controls intuitive so that twitch reflexes can kick in. If your player has to go through convoluted or counter-intuitive button presses to do something, you're going to lose them. The controls are something that the player can pick up and get used to rapidly. And as you add new mechanics and new controls, they have to 'make sense' and be something the player can execute easily. This is where so many 'stealth' games fail, and can easily be a make-or-break, and why so many of them are designed around a controller versus a mouse and keyboard, or at least heavily support controllers even on PC release.

        The two stealth genre games I've played recently that I've really enjoyed were Mark of the Ninja and Dishonored/Dishonored 2. Granted, Dishonored series can be more combat-focused, but it is entirely possible to do both games 'no kill' and do a pure stealth run. But I really liked the customization of your character in the Dishonored series. You pick up items, generally well off the beaten path and/or guarded by challenges more significant than you would've encountered otherwise, which are used to augment your abilities. Which also gives you the option of simply... not picking them up. I really liked that. The completionist is going to want them all, and having obscure hard-to-find items that give an optional mechanical advantage can really draw that particular crowd in. The hardcore players can opt to avoid them and play without power-ups or augments entirely, relying just on their skill and the basic tools the game gives them, while the more casual player will probably find enough of them to give themselves a big enough advantage to be able to beat the game a bit easier and find the game more enjoyable as a result. Most of your demographics are happy with the result.

        One final thing I'd like to address in this admittedly huge wall o' text, and that's story. You've already laid out the bare bones of what looks like an absolutely amazing backstory. Develop that! One of the best parts of Mark of the Ninja, aside from intuitive controls, entertaining puzzles, and everything else that makes a good stealth game, was the creepy element of the storyline that you don't immediately twig to until later. It's that whole 'am I really being driven insane by these tattoos and that isn't actually an enemy, or am I seeing clearly and that person needs to be eliminated for the safety of the clan' question. And because it is left as a question that is never really definitively answered, it becomes so engaging. Some things don't need to be defined, just hinted at, but a deeper backstory that you can uncover can turn an okay game into a legendary one. As you go on your journey, you can find little hints or clues about what is 'actually' going on. Completionists will go nuts trying to find them all. And they don't have to be scrolls of text either. You can set up scenes which tell a tale just as easily, look at how Dark Souls introduces so much of its plot and backstory. You can incorporate part of your storytelling through your level design. It may not even be something that people will immediately pick up on. But eventually, someone somewhere WILL pick up on it. Then go to the fourms and share it with others. And then people start talking about it. And discussing it. And getting engaged not just in the game itself, but in the world of your game. And that's when you've got them well and truly hooked!
          Last edited: May 9, 2017
          MongooseCalledFred likes this.
        • cooltv27

          cooltv27 Heliosphere

          if you have throwable objects or anything you can aim in any direction, I like to have mouse button 4 and 5 as options to use. main example I have is terraria and the grappling hook. the moment that I could bind that to mouse 5 I did.

          mouse button 4 and 5 are a must for options in my opinion (OPTIONS, im aware not everyone has them, dont bind any defaults to them)
          • Xylia

            Xylia Tiy's Beard

            I would have to second what @ShneekeyTheLost said above about waiting on patrols.

            Also, one thing that REALLY irks me in some games (like that stupid section near the beginning of Wind Waker) is having to replay sections because you got caught. Nothing sucks worse than to go through a 10+ minute stealth section, screw up near the end, and re-load at the checkpoint ten minutes ago. Then you gotta do that all. over. again.

            That builds up frustration like nobody's business. If Stealth fails, fighting should always be an option. Maybe fighting's more difficult, maybe you get a little less reward if you have to fight... but it should still be an option. You shouldn't insta-fail and reload if someone sees/hears you and you get detected.

            And to add to @cooltv27 's post... please, PLEASE add legacy controller support if at all possible. Too many games these days insist on XInput which forces you to either use an xbox 360 controller (analog sticks suck in 2D platforming) or awkward work-arounds that sometimes work, sometimes don't. So, if you can... please think about those people who enjoy D-pad controllers that are using DirectInput controllers.
            • Bamboozler

              Bamboozler Space Penguin Leader

              Unfortunately I don't have any opinions on stealth based features in games other than ones already stated by other people but the feel I get from the dev streams that I'm seeing - you're definitely moving in the right direction. There's nothing more satisfying than choice. Knowing that button mashing and killing/defeating every enemy in your path isn't the only option. Giving players the option to either confront or avoid certain enemies based on their personal play style would be ideal.
                OllyOllyBennett likes this.

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