Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sneaksy

I was finally able to start Dishonored last night. Mental note: when trying to configure a hard drive and a little voice keeps telling me "You've done this before" don't answer, "Yeah, so why isn't this working?" and keep bashing my head against a wall for over an hour. It means you've done this before and there's a drive with Windows installed on it in the desk drawer, already configured, from the last time the SSD died.

Dishonored so far is very much in the same vein as Thief, which makes me pretty happy. Stealth games are typically so much better than regular old FPS frag-fests, and the Thief series is one of my all-time favorites .I would go further and say Dishonored is a perfect bookend for the Thief series (at least until a new one comes out, hopefully next year). I was able to slip right in to Garrett mode, and the guards seemed like old friends, just with different slang and new tunes to whistle. It was liking putting on a nicely worn-in pair of old boots.

One of the things I miss about Thief is the light gem. This one little UI element, indicating how illuminated your character is, helped immensely in remaining stealthy. A few times it even reminded me I still had a weapon drawn ("I'm totally in the dark, why isn't the gem black? Oh, I still have my sword out."). Deus Ex: Human Revolution was able to make up for the lack of a light gem by having augmentations for displaying what direction the enemy is looking and their alertness level. Dishonored has a similar power, called Dark Vision.

Playing video games - especially good ones - makes me think about roleplaying games and how their concepts and subsystems might work in a roleplaying environment. When well done, video games excel at setting tone and mood. I've wanted to run a Thief-like game for a very long time, borrowing stylistic elements and tone, but it's always seemed hard to get the feel right. One concern is the genre wouldn't seem to lend itself well to multiple characters, since they are almost always very solitary. This is hardly a huge deal, and I might tackle it in a later post. But the most important thing is stealth has to be done right - possibly even as a mini-game.

Stress Tracks...Again?

Coming at it from a FATE perspective (specifically, Strands of Fate), my first instinct is, "Stress track!" Our sneaksy characters would have a Stealth custom stress track. I'm thinking it would have stress boxes equal to something like: (Deception + Agility + Other Modifiers) - Size. The character's own actions and movements mark off stress boxes, with Consequences representing miscalculations or other events ranging from "Stepped on a stick" to "Knocked over a box" to "Caught in the open". Stealth stress boxes clear at the end of the scene, but there might be actions which could clear some as well.

As an alternative, or even a counterpart, guards and other characters may have an Alertness stress track to represent how alert they are. An Alertness track is a little trickier, because it runs "backwards". More alert characters would have a smaller track, while distracted or less alert characters would have a larger one. One solution would be to have the track start at a fixed value - let's say 6, but it could possibly vary by the quality of the guard - and subtract Perception plus any other modifiers. Consequences would reflect increased levels of alertness, from "I think I heard something" to "I should check that out" to "Raise the alarm!". Like the Stealth track, Alertness Consequences would clear over time or after performing specific actions. For both Stealth and Alertness, various Edges and Determinations can be set to represent specialized equipment or the mental state of the stealth character or the guards (setting up the classic situation where the guard is always trying to catch the thief).

These ideas, or something similar, combined together could create a mini-game where stealth is the focus of the action, almost like "stealth combat".

Zones

The final consideration for a stealth-centered game is how zones are set up. By necessity the map would look a lot different than one set up for a swashbuckling fight or a shoot out. It would probably outline zones of various light levels, little or lots of cover, or alternate routes such as overhead or underneath an area, etc. Aspects like Intermittent Light or Hard Metal Floor or Soft Carpeting would round out a good stealth zone map. Combined with some stealth track and some alert guards, this looks like a promising framework for all of the sneaksy stuff I'd need in an rpg.