Thursday, 18 October 2012

Stealth Week Part 4 - Men and Mind Games

It's not paranoia if someone really is out to get you.
Welcome to the last instalment of stealth week.Yesterday I spent a fair bit of time talking about how while stealth is a wonderfully enjoyable aspect for me in games, that it's often difficult to implement without making the computer either unfairly superhuman or horribly stupid. This impels the question: how does one improve the stealth mechanics without it going into one extreme or the other? Well, despite them being few and far between, there are some examples of stealth in player vs. player realms as well.

There are multiplayer games where stealth can be a power-up, like in the various Halo and Super Smash Brothers (although for various reasons the invisibility pick up is pretty much garbage in the latter), I'm choosing to focus on a handful of games where stealth is one of the mainstays of the multiplayer combat.

The first and perhaps most obvious choice, at least for myself, would be The Spy from Team Fortress 2. Stealth is a huge part of the point of this class, although not his only trick either. Sneaking around while looking around for an adequate opportunity to do some real damage to an enemy push or defensive position is nerve-wracking in no small part because it's you vs. other players, who while predictable, can and will change their tactics on the fly.

Likewise, The Infiltrator in Tribes: Ascend shares a lot of common ground with The Spy. He's meant to get in, disable as much as he can (preferably without being caught) and help his team by creating general mayhem.

Finally, in Assassin's Creed multiplayer modes, which have been present since the second iteration of the franchise, there's no one character that relies on stealth. This is because for many game modes everyone is going to be doing their best to rely on tricks, traps and subterfuge in order kill their targets and avoid getting killed themselves.

While TF2 and Tribes are both similar in that they're first person shooters Assassin's Creed is a different beast altogether, being played in third person in maps generally crowded with computer controlled NPCs. And yet I would say that even for all of the differences that these games have, the stealth relies on the same thing: a good old fashioned dose of paranoia.

Take The Spy for example. It's almost a paradox, but a Spy who the entire enemy team knows is there is almost as effective in some cases as a Spy who no one does. Getting a good Spy, a really good Spy, into the breech unnerves the entire other team; "is that actually my teammate?", "can I leave this sentry nest, even for a second?", "does he know that we're about to make a push?" all of these questions unbalance the enemy team. They become distracted, they pay less attention to the fights in front of them to focus on an enemy that may or may not be right behind them.

It's the same thing with the Infiltrator. Certainly the best opening is one wherein the enemy doesn't know you're there, but at the same time once they do, they have to devote time, manpower, and resources to track you down that would be better placed elsewhere. The longer you can evade capture or death, the more beneficial you're being to your team, and the more you're hindering your enemy by your mere existence.

And in Assassin's Creed people are often both hunter and hunted in many of the game modes. Do you ignore the whispers because you're so close to your own target? Is that even your target, or did they send out a decoy? Do they know you're there and ready to smokebomb and stun you? All of these questions add to the tension and make the game more enjoyable.

There are of course bad examples; novice AC players flailing around, Cloak and Dagger Spies that refuse to move from a spot even though they're doing nothing useful, Infiltrators who have the worst luck or are just plain dumb about their approaches. But to see things done right is a real pleasure, and I also think that it's how A.I. could be made more workable.

People can get paranoid, but computers can't. They either know you're there, or they don't. I'm sure there are some games where things get more difficult the more you get spotted, but I'd like to see a paranoia style system employed in more games. Once you make a move your enemy knows you're there and gets more and more paranoia. Certainly this would make some situations harder, but it would also be exploitable for you. Let's say you want to get into a highly guarded area; you can intentionally appear a lot in a nearby area to try and draw more attention to that one, then move in while your actual target is more lightly guarded.

These are just ideas to improve an aspect that is seeing more and more use in games these days, and one that I'd like to see get better and better as time goes on. I hope that everyone enjoyed it, and got something out of it. How if you don't mind me, I have more assholes to sneak attack in Fallout 3.

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