Jaid Mindang, Project Director at Blue 52 the developers of Stolen, out soon, took some time out to answer a few of my questions regarding this stealth action game with a twist.
1. With games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Rogue Ops and Mission Impossible: Operation Surma on the market already, what would you say is Stolen’s most unique selling point compared to these and other games of the genre?Stolen features Anya, a professional thief. Unlike the others in the genre, she is not a military operative and she doesn’t have any lethal manoeuvres. We’ve worked hard on Stolen to broaden the array of stealth gameplay associated normally with other genre titles and add a whole lot more to the mix.
2. What were the biggest problems that you faced in the development of Stolen, how did you combat some of these problems and forge ahead?The A.I. had to be worked on (and reworked) extensively to deliver more than the normal guards rigidly sticking to their patrol routes or areas. We had to allow our enemies to maintain a pursuit from room to room, in order to increase the threat of being spotted for a character that has been designed to be able to climb and vault walls and melt into the shadows. Similarly, they are equipped with torches to search these same shadows when they become suspicious and a variety of behaviours for “buddying up” with each other when multiple guards are in the same room, in order to fan out and cover a larger room more quickly.
Given these counter-behaviours for dealing with a stealthy assailant, and given that they all carry firearms but cannot be killed, it would have been very easy to make them too hard to defeat. However they do have to physically communicate with each other in order to raise the alarm. Being spotted by a guard won’t automatically cause armed backup to come running, if you are quick enough to take out the guard before he can call-in the sighting on his radio. Moreover, the less competent guards who get knocked out while unawares may not even call it in when he comes round – lest they’re accused of sleeping on the job. There are many ways in which the enemy AI has been built to allow the player to manipulate them while providing plausible reactions to given stimuli. We’re hoping that this will be a large part of the Stolen’s fun and gameplay longevity.
3. What was the main reason behind picking a strong female lead for the main game character?For a start it was different from the majority of characters in directly competitive titles, but also we felt that a strong female character would be a much “easier sell”, in a game where you cannot kill enemies. If you were a butch, heavily-muscled male character, it might start to look silly if you’re going to extraordinary lengths to avoid a lower-echelon security guard who appears to be physically inferior in every way. Who would you rather have seen more of in the movie “Entrapment?” Sean or Catherine Zeta?
(Wolf's answer to Jaid: No question about it, Catherine Zeta V^^^V)
4. I’m a bit of a game freak and gadget nut so one of the things that I really do look forward to in these kinds of games are my toys, how many gadgets are in the game and what would you say is your favourite?She has different ammunition types for her pistol: nullifiers, trackers and sonic emitters. She has electrocuting laser tripwires, night vision, sonic vision, and an abseiling harness. Her ArmPad is the central nervous system for all her gadgets and her live communications link with her partner Louie. This also allows her to pick locks, crack safes, hack into computers and operate a small cutting laser for use in gaining access to electrical junction boxes and ventilation ducts. There are more, but my favourite is the Sonic Visor view. It’s basically a vision mode which shows you passive sonar images. Anything moving or making a noise is visible through closed doors from the sound waves it projects out from itself. Anything silent or stationary is invisible unless Anya hits it with an active ping of her own – at the risk of being detected. It’s very cool.
5. What was the main inspiration for Anya’s look?Well sadly (and perhaps boringly), the character design is always a contentious issue where everyone and their pets wants to get involved. A long while back, it was a committee process involving all kinds of people and more exhaustive concept art than you could shake a stick at. I mediated that process, but we had to dig our heels in after a certain point otherwise we might still have been designing it now. Thankfully, HIP have been very supportive of our character design since it was locked down from before they became our publishing partner, but usually when a new publisher arrives, that’s the first thing they want to “re-examine”. Our long suffering concept artists did a great job though under a lot of creative duress. There’s more perspiration than inspiration in it though. I suppose you could say that about the whole development process.
6. How big are the actual levels in the game? I am a gamer that likes to explore and have a fairly free-roaming look at environments, so it’s important to me that there’s a good chunk to do and see.The levels are very big. They aren’t as linear as the Splinter Cell levels, and there is some essential back-tracking to be done. We’ve also got 90 non-mission related steal able items hidden around the game for the completist gamer, which contributes to your rating as a thief and can yield bonus pickups.
7. I know that Anya does not kill guards, why this choice?It was simply a clear cut case of our wishing to make the player chose from a much wider selection of tactics to the gameplay offered within the stealthy approach. The balancing of the game such as this with a strong stealth bias would have been redundant if lethal moves were possible. Why (as a player) would you spend s much care and effort trying to remain concealed if a swift bullet to brain would save you all the hassle, and make sure that the guard in question no longer poses any threat to you in the future? I’ve seen some chat about this in the forums, and some people say “but it would be nice to have the choice.”, but that’s the same choice you have in Splinter Cell or Metal Gear or any of those others. Moreover, you would depopulate the levels and leave them void of any real unpredictable threat when returning to them later. Respawn enemies, you say? Too cheap. Arbitrarily enforce enemy fatality as criteria of mission failure, you say? Too restricting. It just wouldn’t have worked… not for Stolen, anyway. Our enemy A.I. is much better than that, and we’re making the player have to find out why, rather than just allowing them to camp in the air vents and shoot out the baddies until you can enter a new room for t he first time, with all hostiles already neatly dispatched. In Stolen, enemy encounters have potentially far reaching consequences. We don’t prevent the player from playing confrontationally; we just prevent them from removing the threat element. It’s a much more tense experience for that.
8. How many levels are in Stolen and what kind of save system does the game employ?The game has 4 massive and distinctly different locations, but these aren’t simply “levels” in the traditional platform game sense. Within each level there is an average of 23 checkpoints, fairly distantly spaced from each other and which auto save your progress as you get to each. You can save at any point in fact, but if you load a saved game it will reset you to the position of the last checkpoint.
9. I have read the small comic of Stolen and was really impressed by it, would you say the storytelling in the game (since my prime occupation is an author) is better or equal to the story in the comic?I would say there are more McGuffins in the game story. That’s just a consequence of it having to keep pace with cut and thrust of a game’s development. Sometimes more cut than thrust, if you follow me. I’m glad you liked the comic. The guys who worked on it did so under very difficult conditions. But the scriptwriter Jim was the same one who was required to do a bit of repair work to our in-game storyline and he’s also the one who’s written all of the character dialogue in-game.
10. What kind of music choice did you make for the game? Is it a mix of different styles or did you go for a clear solid style from the beginning?Well it’s all been composed and performed by the very talented Ian Livingstone, courtesy of Tsunami Sounds. Ian is a games industry veteran with a very long list of games titles under his belt. The music also features real strings in some of the orchestral bits. It’s very good. I would describe it as being perfectly in keeping with the style of the game. Big-budget sounding musical scoring for the post-Matrix generation. We’re very pleased with it. As an accompaniment to a stealth game, it is minimalist most of the time, so the player can listen out for various audio clues as to the whereabouts of enemies etc. The in-game music reflects the state of alert of the building that you’re in, so in that respect, we haven’t littered the game with a new theme tune in every level. It’s actually more functional than that.
11. What was the inspiration for the story of Stolen?Good gracious. That goes back further than I can remember. It has evolved to be unrecognisable from its original form, so even if I could remember it, it would be irrelevant to the game as it stands today.
12. I have heard there are hand to hand moves in the game, is it possible you could tell our readers a little more about the combat system?All the combat is non-lethal, as you know. Anya has a couple of combos which she can perform if the timing is right. However she’s far smaller than any of the guards, so it quite risky taking on more than one at a time. The best bet for a silent take-down is to creep up from behind and put them into a choke hold. That knocks them out for the longest. It’s possible to stun guards (lasting only a few seconds) or knock them out, (lasting a bit longer). You can also shoot them with taser rounds which will stun them long enough to close the distance and take them down properly. The importance of something like that cannot be overstated when they all carry (lethal) firearms and you don’t.
13. Are there any first person views in the game?Yes, the first person view can be used to specifically scan the area for interactive features. The HUD in 1st person mode will lock onto and identify these features automatically, for a bit of online assistance. Also the zoom function is useful for spotting guards and other smaller electronic security devices. The sonic visor view mentioned above is also a 1st person only feature.
14. How free is the camera, are there static camera angles or a mix of moving and static?There’s a mix, and the right analogue stick manually overrides camera control in the majority of cases, if you prefer. I don’t believe there is a single perfect camera solution that everyone would like. It’s a very subjective thing.
15. Do you like Pie? Just kidding, last question and we’ll leave you in peace. Will there be other features to unlock in the game?Some of the hidden steal able items will unlock concept art in the main menu. There are 50 of them. That’s the only unlockable feature. The concept art is very nice though, and includes some of the pencil roughs of that comic you liked. I always think the pencils of comics look better than the final inked and coloured artwork.
Games Xtreme and Wolf himself would like to thank Jaid for taking the time out to answer these questions and we're looking forwards to reviewing the game it really does sound as though it's a lot different to what we expected.