Eurogamer recently sat down with Mike Bithell (designer on the game Volume) and Jordan Amaro, a designer at Kojima Productions who is currently involved with the development of Metal Gear Solid V, to talk about the stealth genre and what they are trying to achieve with the games they’re working on.
Amaro explains that he doesn’t like it if a stealth game is too explicitly laid out for the player, so that it becomes clear what path the designers wanted you to take and what actions to do. For MGSV, the team doesn’t use presets of objects, but rather ‘assembles assets together in an organic way’. Because of this, there is no clear and obvious road to take, and it’s up to the player to observe and decide what to do.
Amaro previously worked at 2K and Crytek, and started creating missions with what he knew, designing the game solely for the player. But it turned out this went against the vision for MGSV.
“If I go to my lead designer and say, I have this really cool mission where you have to listen to a conversation, you’re trailing two guys and have to avoid all these guards that I’ve carefully placed in the village, […] in our studio that wouldn’t work, because we don’t consider just moving the character – at an input level – an interesting interaction. Just moving the character and staying close enough – and what happens if you’re not, do we have to restart the mission? – we don’t consider this low level input experience good enough, so we’re not going to do this.”
“But we will do chase quests, for example. You can still stop them through the game systems and you don’t have to shoot. You will have to figure out a way to stop their car and then get close enough.”
It’s not just about the player, it’s about the player manipulating this character called Snake, and the focus is on him, and his actions.
“Snake does not want to get on the enemy’s roads. He does not want to intersect their path and risk getting seen. We even dedicate one button to jumping out of sight. So we don’t think in terms of: I’m going to make you crawl here, climb there then use that ability on that enemy. That’s the outside-in. We think about the interesting situations that can occur in our game through the agency acted by Snake. That’s the inside-out.”
Another thing that is important is the world the game takes place in: it has to make sense. For example, a village in Afghanistan (one of the game’s locations) has to be believable.
“We’ve only created a place that our artists have okayed and hopefully makes sense and poses challenges. And that Snake route will be subtle and organic enough so it won’t jump to your eyes. We hope to reveal Snake’s character through the players’ actions in those spaces that are smart to traverse. That’s pure game storytelling, although it’s still primal because the odds are what they are.”
Amaro also talked a bit about the workflow within the studio for creating environments and levels.
“[…] The artists create the open world. They make it look good and make it make sense in terms of topography and the weather. They’re the first guys to really get the soul of what Afghanistan is, and we come after that and avoid destroying their work, because they’ve already got quite close to the truth. […] When we come in, we wonder, from this point of view, where the player will come for the first time, what’s the route Snake would take? As an experienced agent on the field, where would he go?”
Those who’ve played Ground Zeroes will know of the mechanics implemented to aid the player, such as markers and Reflex Mode. According to Amaro, this is a good example of a game that is accessible by default, but can be customized to be more of a hardcore experience. “In Metal Gear Solid you can customize markers and difficulty. When I turned off everything it was difficult for me as a designer to play the game because if I wasn’t careful enough, or if I was sprinting I would be spotted from the tower, and then boom.”
While Metal Gear Solid V provides the possibility for the player to go through a mission guns blazing, this is not the studio’s vision of what it means to be Snake.
“We made a game for you so that you can create or be subjected to havoc, and you may feel like him at that moment but everyone knows that’s not Snake, right? That’s one declination. One version. […] If you want to go out there and shoot everybody, you’re going to feel badass. And you may feel like Snake but in fact you won’t be Snake. From our point of view, Snake is not that guy.”
The reason they still want to provide the option to the player is because Kojima wants to ‘explore what it means to bring the franchise to an open space’, according to Amaro. “He wants to try to bring the player closer to Snake by leaving all these options and reducing the amount of cut-scenes. He wants you to feel close to him, reduce the friction and see what players make of it. And Snake doesn’t talk as much.” Amaro added, jokingly: “He said, if he talks too much then we have to pay Kiefer Sutherland a lot more!”
To read the full interview, go to Eurogamer’s article.