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The history and meaning behind the 'Stealth genre'
by Muhammad Al-kaisy on 06/10/11 01:00:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The stealth genre of games in our generation is actually a sub-genre for the different actual game genres such as adventure, simulation, action and role-playing. The function of stealth has been widely used in a variety of games and comes to be more popular in recent years. According to The free dictionary[1] stealth is “The act of moving, proceeding, or acting in a covert way”. So the basic idea of stealth in games is based upon hiding and avoiding contact with the enemies present in games. Usually in these types of games the player has more freedom on facing the different challenges, obstacles and paths.

" really was Pac-Man back
in 1980 that laid the

foundations of “stealth”..."

There has been an evident evolution among this genre and today we see that more and more developers started to incorporate stealth elements into gameplay. Some games use these mechanics without really being aware of it and some even use it when there really is no need for it. Even though it really was Pac-Man back in 1980 that laid the foundations of “stealth” (in other words avoiding confrontation), it wasn’t until Castle Wolfenstein (1981) was released before the genre itself was born. Created by the programmer Silas Warner (1949-2004) for Muse Software the game was set in World War II and featured a fresh way to approaching games at the time. The objective in the game was to retrieve war-plan documents from a castle that was infested with guards. The player faced two types of enemies and had numerous of options on strategy, clothing and equipment. The game was set to deliver several sequels and established the basic definition for the stealth genre.

Opening a chest in Castle Wolfenstein takes time.

After Castle Wolfenstein various known and unknown stealth titles were released, to mention a few; 005 (1981), Sneak’n Peek (1982), Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1983), Metal Gear (1987) and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake (1990). Alongside core stealth games, other games were also released that did have some type of stealth elements/parts in them, games like; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989), Live A Live (1994), Aliens vs Predator (1994), Clock Tower (1995), GoldenEye 007 (1997) and Final Fantasy VII (1997).

The stealth genre really took off in 1998 when three core stealth games were released that same year. They were Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, Metal Gear Solid and Thief: The Dark Project. All of these games had their own take on stealth and were all well received by public and media. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was a ninja game that took place in feudal Japan. The basic storyline of the game is that you work for a certain Lord with the idea of protecting your province from corruption and injustice. The game featured two characters with their own weapons, abilities and play styles and the player also had choices among an assortment of different type of equipment and weapons such as ninja stars, smoke grenades and healing potions. Because of technical limitations at the time, the game was always set in the dark and the player could only see a certain distance ahead, but that did not keep it away from being “the first 3D stealth game ever”[2].

"The game that really made

the stealth genre popular

among mainstream was

Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear


Thief: The Dark Project was the first game to introduce stealth gameplay into the first person view point. The game was also first to introduce elements of lightning and shadows for hiding[2]. In this game you assume the role of Garret, a thief who takes on different missions of stealing valuable items for clients. The story then opens up to reveal a more complicated situation in which the city he lives in is threatened by destruction. The game is set in a medieval type of setting with industrial revolution elements. Many of the games that followed years after borrow concepts and mechanics that Thief: The Dark Project established. Beyond that, the game also paved critical foundations for modern stealth games.

The game that really made the stealth genre popular among mainstream was Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid. The game featured a thrilling experience unlike any other at the time with heavy emphasis on a great cast of full voiced characters, beautiful and cinematic cut-scenes and of course innovative stealthy gameplay. The plot is set 6 years after Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and revolved around our hero once more being sent to infiltrate a base with terrorist threatening to launch nuclear weapons. Even though Metal Gear Solid was a game with serious stress on story, it was self-aware with many references to “gaming” itself. Some examples of these references are; enemy characters telling the player to put down the controller, or mentioning that “there are no continues”. These small but significant details were all a contributing factor to the brilliance and importance of this game and what it represents for the genre.

Solid Snake hiding behind a tank.

After these three cornerstone games were released stealth became more or less intertwined into video games. Most modern games of today use stealth in some way or another. Be it for a small short of time, parts of or throughout the whole game. Many more core stealth titles were released and also spawned several sequels, games like; Hitman: Codename 47 (2000), Dues Ex (2000), Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell (2002), Sly Cooper (2002), Siren (2003), Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay (2004), Crysis (2007), Assassin’s Creed (2007) and Fallout 3 (2008).

"...stealth became more or

 less intertwined into video

The basic idea behind stealth as mentioned before is avoiding confrontation with enemies, but stealth has also evolved in many ways since then. What only used to be hiding behind cover or in shadows has changed to being traversal actions, disguises, gadgets and getting leverage. The gameplay has also changed in the way that it can now be applied to a broader and more realistic simulated world. Not only has stealth been revolutionized on the single player front, but also in multiplayer were players can now use stealth tactics to overcome challenges and opponents. Examples of multiplayer games that use stealth are Team Fortress 2 (2007), Aliens vs Predators (2010) and Killzone 3 (2011).

Some of the most common actions the player is able to do in stealth games are for example disguising the character, dragging and hiding bodies of enemies, delivering quick take downs on enemies, vertical and horizontal hiding, sneaking and crawling, using gadgets, destroying lights and cameras and blending with environments and crowds. To the contrary, game designers must ensure that the AI characters the player faces must be balanced and aware to a certain degree of their environments and choices on tackling the player. Usually in these types of games if the player alerts one of the enemies then the difficulty level will increase and lead to more foes showing up. Therefore accomplishing total stealth in games usually leads to rewarding the player.

Looking at two important titles that incorporated stealth in our generation, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) and Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) we see that stealth has more or less become a standard way for the player to tackle different segments in games. Even though some segments in these video games are designed to require stealth, ultimately it’s up to the player on how the rest of the game is traversed. Hopefully the rest of the games industry will follow in these brilliant game’s footsteps on tackling stealth.

Batman waiting behind a corner to strike.


[1]The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company ( [2]Shane Patterson, "The sneaky history of stealth games: Hide and seek through the ages", February 3, 2009 (

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Michael Joseph
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"The basic idea behind stealth as mentioned before is avoiding confrontation with enemies, but stealth has also evolved in many ways since then."

I think it's a decent history of stealthy games, but I'm not sure the above sentence (or any others in your article) captured the "meaning" of stealthy games as the title of your article purports.

The so called "stealth genre" is a bit of a euphamism for "simulation" since that word has a negative connotation these days. Wasn't always so.

For me, a stealthy game is one that bends more towards simulation and less towards fantasy. Rambo super soldiers do not exist and a lot of people have little or no interest in playing the role of the classic 80's action hero after a time. in simulations that require a large degree of stealth, the player is not his own meat shield. Single shots usually cripple or kill. Knowing that you cannot go Rambo (without exploiting weaknesses in the AI) and survive is what can make completing a mission or level in a simulation so much more satisfying for some players compared to a typical action shooter.

So you're right that accurate first person simulations have been around long before Doom, Quake, Half Life, Call of Duty and others branched off to form a new action fantasy sub-genre in the 90s.

Timothee Garnaud
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I'm glad to finally see people talking about stealth and quoting Tenchu.

I think today there are no more full stealth game, sadly. Now stealth is just an optional way to deal with a situation. Even if the first Assassin's Creed was a good refresh of the genre, the sequels were more of action/adventure games. The last one had almost no stealth in it.

Batman Arkham Asylum has great stealth part. but unfortunatly in very confined rooms, were the IA can be scripted to seem realistic. There is actualy no really good IA in stealth game.

Oh, I don't remember any stealth in Final Fantasy VII... Could you refresh my memory please?

Muhammad Al-kaisy
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Yes its a shame that full stealth games are more or less gone.

To your question about FFVII, in the beginning of the game where you enter the Shinra building and you walk your way up to the top. There are some segments where the characters must hide behind statues to avoid combat with soldiers.

Timothee Garnaud
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Right. I remember now. Thanks

Jonathan Lawn
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I love the way the single-player gameplay in something like Far Cry goes from stealth to open fighting: sometimes at the time and place chosen by the player, sometimes when they are rushed or surprised, or sometimes not at all. The variations in that simple transition offer a huge amount of texture and individuality to each play-through.

I agree with Michael though: everyone expects stealth to be an option, in an AAA FPS at least. Note though that the same requirement for "realism" is not applied to the player's ability to see their foe. Over-the-shoulder cameras and radar abound. Quake was more realistic in many ways. For gameplay and interface reasons, I don't suggest we try to change that for many games (ArmA is hard!), but it's worth noting: realism isn't always the way forward.