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Doing stealth the Monaco way Exclusive
Doing stealth the  Monaco  way
September 27, 2012 | By Mike Rose

September 27, 2012 | By Mike Rose
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    13 comments
More: Console/PC, Indie, Business/Marketing, Exclusive



You've heard of Monaco right? The game caused a huge stir in 2010 when it won the Grand Prize and the Excellence in Design award at the IGF, despite having only started life a couple of months before the competition's entry deadline.

Shortly afterwards, the game's developer Pocketwatch Games -- aka all-round nice guy Andy Schatz -- moved into the shadows to more privately concentrate on his stealth-based co-op title. Now, following successful public showings and the start of a closed beta period, Schatz is gearing up to show the world the fruits of his last few years of labor.

With so much experience working on a stealth game now under his belt, Schatz is more than happy to share his findings -- although the revelation that he has never played any of the Deus Ex games, nor any of the Metal Gears, will surely see him being burned at the video game stake.

"I've actually missed out on many of the games in the stealth canon," he admits, "but their influence permeates our industry. The question marks over the heads of the guards in Monaco clearly come from the genetic history of stealth games, even if I don't specifically recall being inspired by MGS."

According to Schatz, there are two major types of stealth game, and it's important to know which you're aiming for: stealth puzzle games, and open-ended stealth simulations.

"Of the stealth puzzle games, I've always felt Hitman succeeds best in making the player feel smart when they discover the almost impossibly convoluted solutions to their Silent Assassin rating," he says. "The feeling of solving those missions is almost the same as some of the harder puzzles back in the old Sierra days."

The rest of the simulation elements of Hitman, however, don't do anything for the Monaco dev. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, on the other hand, "succeeds incredibly well as an open-ended 'stealth' game that truly gives the thrill and fear of playing a real like game of hide-and-seek. I can't think of any other game that allows for as human a competition inside a fully formed gameworld (aside from perhaps SpyParty!)"

monaco 1.jpgBalancing is a seriously tricky business when it comes to stealth-based action, and Schatz knows this all too well. While he is looking to encourage players to use stealth and careful planning in Monaco, he acknowledges that a lot of leeway is required from the get-go.

"The early levels of Monaco are actually quite forgiving in this regard," he adds. "We found that the hardest teaching challenge that we faced was that players didn't know how to escape from guards once they were caught. So in the first fifth of the game, we don't punish the player too heavily for it."

He continues, "The guards in this early ramp-up period don't have guns, so while they are a threat, the player almost always can find a way to escape. But once we introduce guards with guns, dogs that track your scent, and turret that fire instantly upon tripping security, we clearly ask the player to watch their step a little more closely."

This balancing act has also caused Schatz to remove entire portions of the game, in order to strip the experience down to just the elements that work.

"The biggest one was a cops vs robbers mode," he explains. "We discovered, after implementing it, that adding a player controlled cop to the existing AI of a level forced us to deal with game balance, which in a single-sided co-op game, doesn't matter as much. In order to keep that mode, we were going to have to build entirely new levels in order to support it. I'd still like to do it at some point in the future, because the act of playing detective and trying to pick up clues about the whereabouts of the enemy was really fun."

For other devs out there who are planning to implement stealth-based play into their games, Schatz suggests looking at the style of choices you are providing players with.

"One of the things I think Mark of the Ninja does really well (and Monaco does relatively well) is that all the information and choices presented to the player are state-based," he notes. "They are digital choices, not analog."

"Players tend to have a hard time making choices based upon a range of values, but if you give them the choice of A, B, or C, they have a much easier time strategizing about the optimal path forwards. Analog values like lighting conditions are usually bad, but digital choices like 'light OR shadow' are good."


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Comments


Johnathon Swift
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That sucks, I was hoping Monaco would be something I liked. But I don't like "Digital" choices in stealth games. They're predictable, and thus boring. They aren't even stealth to me anymore, may as well just be a totally abstract puzzle game, wherein you either succeed and don't get caught or fail immediately.

I suppose it works for others though. Plenty of people seemed to like Mark of the Ninja even though I didn't. But to any designers out there considering this, there are definitely players out there that don't like the "clear and obvious and predictable" choices he seems to praise. So don't feel the need to absolutely go that way.

Michael Pianta
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How do you feel about the Metal Gear games vs. Splinter Cell (if you've played them)? I really liked Metal Gear Solid, and Tenchu came out around the same time, and I loved it too, so I thought this stealth genre was the one for me. But I never could get into Splinter Cell, and I feel like the reason is that I kept getting spotted when I wasn't expecting to be. I was never sure if I was hidden in deep enough shadow, or if some object was sufficiently obstructing me or if I was moving too fast (noisy) for how close a guard was or whatever.

E McNeill
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There's a *huge* difference between clear/obvious/predictable *choices* and clear/obvious/predictable *feedback*. I'm pretty sure he's talking about the latter, which only means that the game is more fair and less reliant on withholding information to keep you guessing.

Andy Schatz
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This is really just a question of the style of the designer. Personally, I like complex games that have clear cut -- but difficult-- choices. I'd rather be given a succession of 8 binary choices than a single choice with 256 possible answers. In general, I think gamers have an easier time dealing with complex systems when the information is represented in discrete form: 5 out of 8 hearts, rather than 62.5% of health remaining. This allows me (as the designer) to pack more complexity into the game because I know the gamer can process it.

Monaco is a "systems" game in which the player is interacting with a giant active simluation. It's not a linear puzzle game. I don't think you'll be disappointed. Well, at least I hope not. :)

E McNeill
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Oh, well then I was precisely wrong in my characterization. :)

I'm actually working on a game that tries to do the exact opposite, in which all the systems are based on continua, with no discrete information whatsoever. I do recognize that those systems need to be ultra-simple for this to work, though.

Andy Schatz
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By the way, I actually think Swift's characterization is pretty close. The only thing I would disagree with (and I think this is very important) is that while I want the CHOICE to be clear -- "do I do A, B, or C?" -- the outcome of that choice should not necessarily be clear. I enjoy designing complex sim games, but I prefer complex sim games with clearly defined inputs. IMO, the original SimCity was better than all iterations since, and the Sims is a great game. That's just my style as a gamer and designer.

David OConnor
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I'm still enjoying Splinter Cell: Conviction on PC, what an entertaining, deep and well-designed game. The devs put a lot of love into this one

Florian Garcia
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The question on everyone's lips since the past 2 years: When? WHEN! Let us play already! :-)

Andy Schatz
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We're in closed beta right now... slowly adding more players in. We won't be doing an open beta, but we are getting relatively close to release! Sorry about the wait!!! :)

emily sunderman
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can't wait for the new release!

Alex Belzer
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Very surprised you missed out on the Metal Gear games. Was that a conscious choice to avoid playing them? You might find the original two Metal Gears (MSX version) interesting, as posing mostly digital choices. It wasn't until later entries in the series introducing the camo-index system that the choices became mostly analog.

Andy Schatz
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No, I just grew up as a C64 and then PC gamer. I didn't own a console till the first Xbox, when I was working on a game for it. Just a nerdy PC gamer at heart :)

Jane Castle
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Why is this game NOT on Steam GreenLight???? Will you not release on Steam?


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