Slow & Great Stealth Games

Why do stealth games end up being so slow frequently?

Frequently stealth games have multiple speeds you can move at, like running, walking, crouching, and crawling. The idea is that the fastest movement speed will actively attract enemy attention, and the slowest will prevent enemies from noticing unless they look directly at you. Frequently crouching, such as in Dishonored and Deus Ex Human Revolution, will completely squelch your footstep sounds.

The trouble I have with this is, a ton of stealth games end up being about moving slow as balls most of the time, assuming you’re actually playing stealthy, until you memorize the level layouts and find fast ways to move through them. And who likes moving slowly?

The tradeoff here is really obvious, moving slowly makes you less noticeable, and incapable of being perceived without direct vision, at the cost that you’re staying within view for longer periods of time, tempting fate that a guard might turn around and stare at you.

The downside is, how often is this really played with in any way? How many guards have you seen that just face one direction, so you have to crawl on your belly to get close to them?

How can we fix this? Have guards turn around more often, maybe give them a little spider sense, feel the player’s gaze on their back. And importantly, establish some kind of tell before they do it so the player knows to get the hell out.

What about a game that reversed this? What if you needed to go fast in order to stay invisible? And the slower you go, the more noticeable you are. Dunno how it would all work out, probably based on the player moving so fast that they trip over something, lose all their speed and get caught, but hey, might be worth a shot. That or skipping the movement speed = noise thing altogether.

Alternatively increase the gamespeed, so the slowest form of movement is faster, but still proportionally slower. Adjust enemies so reaction time is still balanced.

This is probably something worth playing around with.

What elements make a great stealth game?

Good level design, good enemy spotting AI, good investigation AI, good distraction mechanics, good chasing AI, good movement mechanics.

Without good level design, you can’t move around enemies. You can’t really have a stealth game in a single hallway. Also if you don’t have chokepoints and good patrol patterns, then it’s either too easy or too rote.

The way enemies spot you, and the reaction they have to it is important. You gotta have some tolerance zones where they sort of detect you, otherwise everything is over when you enter their vision cone. I think dishonored broke this down in a neat way with eyes, head turn, body turn, though failed at investigation and sub-alert states.

Investigation is important for the distraction aspect. It’s also the primary interplay between the player and the enemies. It’s where the enemies try to actually find you, based on where they think you are, or other factors. Thief 1 & 2 did the best job of this in my opinion, I still remember a tense encounter in thief 1 of trying to avoid a guard in a pitch black room with a tiled floor. He couldn’t see me, but he kept moving around, getting close to me, and I had to keep moving aside on the loud floor, which clued him in on my positioning even more, but I’d get out of the way, and he’d lose me briefly before the cycle repeated.

Distraction mechanics prey on the enemy’s sense of vision or hearing, they’re able to help you pull enemies away from choke points, or get them off your back if they’re about to find you. They can be close range or far range. They can draw enemies directly to you, or pull them to a different point, and they induce risk because enemies then try to find you afterwards. MGS3 and MGSV are kind of the kings of this in my opinion.

Good chasing AI is part of what keeps the game fun when everything gets fucked up. Good AI here will try to close off exits, chase the player directly, get into position ahead of the player, or other such routines. Pac-man ghosts are good for understanding this type of principle, and Monaco generally excels at this type of stealth, practically being built around it.

Good movement mechanics fit in any game, in the case of stealth games, movement is both a matter of traversal, and tradeoffs between visibility, noise, and speed. Some of the most interesting here would be Dishonored, though blink kind of broke the stealth unfortunately, MGS3, MGSV, and Mark of the Ninja (especially this one).

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