| Posted 10/24/09 at 06:06 PM||Reply with quote #1 |
|One of the reasons why I was curious to play Thief was Justin's comment on this post by Greg Tannahill. As somebody who isn't a stealth fan, Greg's points rang true to me, so I was curious to see how well they held up with Thief.|
Going through his points:
- I'm okay with stealth avoiding conflict. In general, in fact, I wish more games let me avoid conflict! (Each new Civ game promises that I'll be able to avoid more of the conflict, but they never live up to that in my experience.)
- I do agree with the point about stealth not offering resolution, though - I'm always nervous about the areas I've left behind (though fortunately I'm playing Thief on the easiest setting, so I don't usually have to go back through those areas), and in general I find myself trying to find ways to kill the guards (sorry, knock them out) exactly for this reason.
- I also don't like not having control over the gameplay pacing: I don't particularly enjoy sitting around waiting for the right time in the patrol cycles (and then repeating over and over again when I fail). Though this seems like an area where I have more control than I'm using: I need to get better at using the range of arrows at my disposal.
- The NPC are, in general, pretty much mechanised, dialogue bits aside. Having said that, I'm not sure that's any more of a problem with stealth games than with lots of other gameplay types - it's just that you interact with individual enemies for a longer period of time than you do in a game type where you try to kill enemies immediately, so their mechanical nature is more obvious
- In Thief, stealth is obviously not as binary as in some games. Having said that, for me that's more of a theoretical difference than a practical one: I try to stay in the darkest areas available to me in a section as much as possible, and if I'm seen, I'm generally screwed. (Though sometimes it's ternary, with a searching state in the middle.)
So it looks like I mostly still agree with Greg's points so far. But one of them, control over the environment, could turn out to be the key to getting me to enjoy stealth games more; I will cross my fingers.
| Posted 10/24/09 at 06:35 PM||Reply with quote #2 |
|I wonder if a reevaluation may be in order, there are two things you should keep in mind. Firstly, it's important to not think of Thief as a game about overcoming the NPCs so much as a game about overcoming the environment, the tools at your disposal allow you to alter the environment in your favor so that you can render the NPCs effectively impotent without directly engaging them. Secondly don't be afraid to use the tools at your disposal, that's what they are there for. You'll likely find more in the current level but you can't carry them forward so use it or lose it. If you are using Broadhead Arrows to take out guards then I can almost guarantee you will always have, or be able to locate within the level, more Broadheads Arrows than guards.|
Being nervous about the areas you've already passed through is sensible, my simplest suggestion is to close doors behind you. It sounds trite, but if you are unlikely to return through an area close the door and you can get away with a lot without anybody hearing you. In terms of providing resolution, it goes back to thinking about the game as your verses the environment rather than you verses NPCs. If you've used your tools effectively the environment will have been altered to be more safe for you than the NPCs so even if you do have to return the balance of power will be in your favor.
Despite being restricted to a first person perspective in most circumstances all the information you need is provided, if not visually then through sound cues.
A great example of this is in Bafford's where the floor surfaces change from carpet, to stone to tile, with the sound of foot steps on each being different. You can work out patrol paths fairly quickly by listening for the change in tone of their footsteps as the NPCs move down the corridor.
At it's most basic level Thief is a game about wielding power. The NPCs might have swords but if you are crouched in the darkness you are invisible and with all the tools at your disposal you can act at your own pace.
Of course I'm biased, in all seriousness I actually cannot read Greg Tannahill post without my ire rising to dangerous levels. If only because I think his definitions of what makes a game good are... well let's just say I don't share them.
I will say though that after playing more of Thief that Looking Glass really improved their design with the sequel.
Groping The Elephant
| Posted 10/24/09 at 08:49 PM||Reply with quote #3 |
|This was an interesting read, thanks for linking to it. I'll go point by point as well.|
"Stealth avoids conflict." While I can agree stealth lacks "drama," I don't think drama is necessary to make a good game, so I simply disagree with that statement. Dramatic interaction between characters is not the only way to go even in other mediums, and one of the things I appreciate about games is that by allowing the player to have a hand in the world, the elements a player might be interested in seeing can potentially be pretty different from the things that might be interesting to interact with in a purely observational mode.
"Conflict," though, stealth has plenty of. In the game of I the intruder vs. them the guards, I'd say conflict is inherent - if there was no conflict, there would be no need for stealth in the first place. The guards are attempting to keep the area secure and clean, I the intruder am attempting to sneak in and mess things up; their ignorance of my presence does not change the fact that the guards and I have mutually exclusive goals, or win states, or whatever you want to call it. I think a better word to use would be confrontation; it is true that stealth avoids confrontation, and I don't see what's inherently wrong with that. There can still be conflict, tension, and all sorts of interesting things going on without direct confrontation. Having redefined the point this way, it seems to me that it mostly boils down to his later point regarding NPC mechanization.
Yes, one could say that in a narrative sense there is no real conflict or drama between the intruder and the guards; without interaction between the characters, the narrative context is largely left to the player to keep in mind (or to not). But games as a whole are rather notorious for making/trying to make fun, interesting experiences out of taking on one after another of a slew of relatively faceless opponents; this is not unique to stealth.
"Stealth does not offer resolution." Again, I don't see an inherent problem. In fact, this runs counter to one of the things I most enjoy about games like Thief and Deus Ex: the feeling that I have mastered the people, not just the environment. That I can handle the active elements within the environment in such a way that I don't even need to touch them, don't need resolution; because what I'm ultimately after has nothing to do with some two-bit guard. Besides, sneaking past NPCs often does offer "resolution" in that you won't have to deal with them again; only if you have to backtrack, or if you run into problems while they're still in earshot, will you ever encounter them again, even if you did leave them standing. Yes, you usually don't want repetition - but then, if the game designers predict you may re-visit areas in a game, they could invest some time in making sure the situation has changed into a new set of problems when you return. Indeed, I think lack of resolution is helpful to any game that is attempting to make you feel vulnerable, whether or not stealth is involved. Games like Resident Evil 4 - or, hey, Thief - come to mind as ones that were improved by uncertainty, because they created a feeling of vulnerability, which in both those games enhanced the experience for me in a way I think the devs intended.
"Stealth removes the ability for the player to pace gameplay." This point I agree with. Mind you, other games also remove the ability for the player to pace gameplay, but they tend to do this in the opposite direction. For instance, in a platformer, the ground may begin crumbling under you, forcing you to move through a portion of the game at a minimum speed; or in a shooter, enemies may rush at you or otherwise do things that dictate the pace of play. This can be frustrating (I'm thinking of Mass Effect and enemy's absolute love of charging your position in that game) but these are all things that tend to ramp up the speed, so at least you aren't likely to be bored. The problem of "downtime" definitely seems limited to stealth, and perhaps a few other genres like RTS. I think it could be resolved pretty simply by letting the player control game speed, but when playing a specific character in a stealth game, that could work against immersion.
Ultimately, though, I can't recall seeing this be a game-breaker; after all, you do always have control of the pacing in the sense that you could go try something risky, even if nothing all that safe is an option at a particular moment. So I think this ultimately ties into the binary point: you can get severely punished for acting out of boredom.
"Stealth mechanizes NPCs." Certainly a problem, but I think any game that attempts to put you in a place with opposed NPCs faces this issue. This seems to me to be a problem of trying to simulate an environment at a human scale with human/intelligent opposition. Whatever it is your NPCs have to do, they have to do it in a way that appears believably intelligent, yet believably limited in perception. This could apply to how a guard patrols as much as to the choices of an enemy combatant who's in a fight for their survival. The AI programmer(s) always have quite a bit of work cut out for them.
"Stealth is binary." The biggest point, I think, and a good one. As Tannahill & CrashT both point out, you can have middle states that give the player addition chances, and this certainly helps. And I think this is somewhat semantic - if a game like Deus Ex provides plenty of fighting options, we simply don't call it a "stealth" game anymore, even if stealth can still be a big part of one's style of play in the game. But yes, if stealth is the only gameplay mechanic, then an absolute lose-state is the only result you can assign to failure.
Of course, you could say the same of any game. "Oh, shooters don't tolerate failure well; if you die it's back to the checkpoint for you." But as Tannahill says, stealth games often don't have a "failure meter" akin to the health meter of combat games that allows you to mess up one or two situations and keep going. As I think he's saying in the post, and makes more explicit in the comments, he's arguing that aspects of a game that aren't too bad in isolation can combine to exponential effect in stealth. As he says in the comments on his blog:
Binary failure is bad everywhere; it's worst when combined with "patience" gameplay as the delay between failure and the opportunity to rectify that failure is prolonged.
A good point, which returned me to the issue of failure & game saves in Thief that I've been trying to think through. For one thing, it seems to me the binary/failure-intolerant aspect of stealth would be especially bad if, unlike Thief, you can't save on command. Even in the best case scenario where you aren't having to repeat challenging tasks, you're going to have to repeat something, which draws out that delay.
But if you do have that ability, as in Thief, it seems to me that might be a problem as well. As Tannahill says, unless the game provides a real fighting option, it's simply back to the checkpoint for you, every time you fail; even with the checkpoint being right before the situation you lost out in, is that an enjoyable experience? I'm finding Thief enjoyable so far, even though I am quicksaving after every two or three notable "wins" in a situation. But this rapid pace of saving tends to break some of my immersion into the game and its rules. If I have a save handy, and if I'm probably going to die anyway on my first attempt at a difficult part of the level, why not just run right around the room to see where everything's at and then reload right before I'm massacred by whatever I've alerted? In some ways I feel like the game is conditioning me, via the reward of saved time and reduced frustration, to use the save system not just to avoid repetition, but as an end-run around some of the game mechanics. Yes, I can choose to abstain from this is a conscious decision, but that means choosing to forego the reward being offered to me.
Anyhow, good food for thought. I'm somewhat put off by his overall insistence that stealth gameplay is "inherently broken" - if one wanted to pull out all the things that can and have been done badly in combat or RTS or X gameplay type, I'm sure a similar list could be made for them as well. But I think some of his individual points are very well taken.
| Posted 10/24/09 at 10:20 PM||Reply with quote #4 |
|Binary failure states are always a problem, yet it's one I don't think Thief has inherently. I think the natural tendancy of a gamer is to optimise so once they are detected they will reload yet Thief offers a number of tools to allow you to recover from failure through evasion.
There is a snowball affect with failure in Thief that in some sense fits the health bar analogue. If I am standing in a bright corridor and a guard comes around the corner in a lot of games that it Game Over. In Thief I have options, quickly draw a Water Arrow and try and create some shadows; throw a flashbomb; duck back into a nearby room; swig a speed potion and run. All of these, and others, are valid options. The stealth mechanics in Thief are akin to the recharging health bar in Halo: get out of thw current encounter, take cover and wait for everything to settle down.
Groping The Elephant
| Posted 10/25/09 at 03:08 AM||Reply with quote #5 |
|Cakes are terrible. Plop a cake on a table and they're likely to ruin any meal. Cheesecake is awesome. Carrot cakes, bundt cakes, and tortes are also pretty good. But they aren't good because they're cakes; they have succeeded despite being cakes.|
Cakes are smelly, attract flies, are left behind by dogs and sometimes get on my shoe when I accidentally step on them.
Cakes that succeed despite being cakes are baked with flour and sugar, and are moist and delicious.
By the way, I've never had a cake, only seen one once, which I vaguely remember.
| Posted 10/26/09 at 12:48 AM||Reply with quote #6 |
Originally Posted by Gravey
By the way, I've never had a cake, only seen one once, which I vaguely remember.
I don't buy that - there's nothing in Greg's post that makes me believe he's never played a stealth game. And I don't agree with the rest of your analogy, either.
| Posted 10/26/09 at 02:07 AM||Reply with quote #7 |
|I was poking fun at Greg's last comment to the post, where he says "I have not, in fact, played Thief; I have seen it in play, but some considerable time ago, and the memory is hazy." Not that Thief is the only stealth game going, but I think it's a better representative than Splinter Cell's stealth-action, or Metal Gear Solid's floating exclamation marks.|
It just seems to me that he spends the post describing these poor aspects of stealth games, and then offers examples of what successful stealth games do with those aspects, as if they manage to succeed despite them. But the fact is, stealth gameplay isn't inherently broken, and those stealth games that succeed do so because they're well-designed period. Any stealth game that is poor (or stealth change-of-pace level in an action game, which usually are terrible) for the reasons he describes is poor because it's badly made; not because stealth "always sucks".
| Posted 10/31/09 at 10:23 PM||Reply with quote #8 |
|I think the referenced post is rather bizarre in its short-sightedness.|
"Avoiding conflict [...] is bad drama" - A million and one stories have contained plots involving some sort of escape or evasion. It may not change the character but it changes the situation. Drama is not just about character, but about situation and plot also. Frodo spent most of his time running and hiding on the route from Hobbiton to Mount Doom. Were the Mines of Moria any less dramatic for it?
Most stories are not about continually resolving conflict from start to finish, but about working around problems on the way towards a final resolution. There may be absolutely no substantial dramatic resolution until the end - and so it is with most stealth games.
Besides which, conflicts can be resolved without direct character to character interaction - a good thing, considering how poorly we are able to model conversation and negotiation in computer games, beyond shooting someone that is.
"Stealth does not resolve problems. When you sneak past a guard, the guard is still there." This just reads like talk from someone who plays too many shooters. The guard's existence isn't the problem. The problem is typically that you are on the wrong side of him. It's akin to saying that Formula 1 racing is flawed because you can't blow up the cars in front of you. Games with stealth or avoidance as a feature just give you a different or an additional way of resolving the problem.
"Stealth removes the ability for the player to pace gameplay" - so do racing games. So does Tetris. This is such a vacuous argument with no relevance to the quality of gameplay that it's not worth discussing. No game should try to be all things to all (wo)men.
"Stealth mechanises NPCs" - what is he comparing to here? The NPCs even in an old game like Thief are no worse (and actually more believable) than most NPCs in first person games, whether FPS or RPG, which typically stand around in a given area until alerted and then tend to engage the player until one or the other are dead. Is that any less mechanical? If anything stealth game NPCs are more interesting because there are deliberate patterns to observe and exploit.
"Stealth is binary" - not at all. If he hasn't seen the several degrees of difference between being hidden and being completely unhidden then he has obviously played these games poorly. I hate to resort to the "if you don't like it, it must be because you're bad at it" argument, because it is generally weak. But calling stealth (in games) binary shows that he's missed crucial aspects of what it adds to gameplay. Example from Thief: I stood in a dark corner near a sentry and threw an item into the opposite corner of the room. The sentry left his position to start searching for the source of the sound and so I could slip past him. This is not "waiting for 'all-clear' downtime". This is being able to take positive action to exploit an NPC's behaviour to achieve an objective - reasonably deep gameplay in a world where most games are limited to act/react choices. If you want an even better example, check Clint Hocking's Splinter Cell video (which might be here, but I can't open the mpeg for some reason) showing again how a game where you can choose to hide and where NPCs will search for you actually gives you more creative ways to get through the obstacles before you.
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