A New Echelon -- Project Stealth Interview
While Splinter Cell: Blacklist brought back Spies Versus Mercenaries to the series, there was a stretch of years without a new entry in the iconic multiplayer mode. Fans took it upon themselves to improve upon Ubisoft's original designs, and have now taken their ideas to Kickstarter with Project Stealth. Hardcore competitive stealth with two teams of two operatives fight for or to protect computer banks in the intense spy thriller. I got a chance to sit down with the game's producer and talk about the upcoming game.
Elijah Beahm [EB]: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. Shall we get started?
Frank van Gemeren [FG]: Sure, happy to be here.
EB: For those who don't know about your game, what is Project Stealth?
FG: Project Stealth is a game in that rare genre of the stealth-action multiplayer. It's a 2 vs 2, asymmetrial multiplayer game where non-lethal and fragile Spies infiltrate locations try to hack PCs, and powerful Mercenaries try to prevent that from happening.
Maybe you've seen the "asymmetrical" word thrown around. The two teams are complete opposites. From camera perspective (3rd person vs 1st person) to gameplay (third person sneaking like Batman's Predator mode in Arkham Asylum vs tactical first person shooter like in Rainbow Six or Interstellar Marines). Each team has special vision modes and gadgets that help them in their gameplay experience.
For most people this is a new genre. For Splinter Cell fans, it will resemble the gameplay of their beloved hardcore muliplayer mode.
EB: Indeed. Speaking of which -- is the title just meant to be something of a homage to the Spies vs. Mercenaries mode, or do you have some ideas of your own to spice up the formula?
FG: We have dissected the core gameplay elements and have noticed there's room for big and small enhancements. The biggest high-level change that we have, is the addition of the Partner System.
If you play often with the same team mate, strategies will form. This brings the gameplay to a new level. It gives a rush to put a new pre-discussed tactic into action for the first time and then see the, hopefully positive, results of that. We hope this informal planning phase that happens outside the game via instant messaging or in real life will be the basis for future friendships. On top of that, playing with that teammate means you gain Points more easily. Points are used to unlock cosmetic perks.
Besides the Partner System we've seen that Mercenaries can use a little bit of variety in their gameplay. We've added optional mini-objectives for the Mercenaries. Completing these mini objectives will give the Mercenaries an edge in their defenses, or give the Spies a small disadvantage. To balance this out, the location of these objectives will be away from the normal patrol routes so there's a clear risk involved which might cost the Mercenary the match.
Other changes are of course better graphics, a new non-lethal Spy gun, different behavior for the Camo Suit, laser grids, vision modes and much more.
EB: And certainly breaks up the flow of just standing around paranoid of spies trying to slip through.
That is correct. Being a Mercenary shouldn't only be about patrolling and chasing Spies. Making the decision with your partner to go to the mini objectives can be a deciding factor in the match.
EB: What kind of non-lethal weaponry will Spies have? Will it only temporarily knock out guards? Or would it be like the crossbow in Splinter Cell: Blacklist that can permanently takedown enemies with gas and shock darts? Will guards have any sort of control input over the security systems like the laser grids?
FG: I am not familiar enough with the gameplay of Blacklist. I have only had a little time with it. The existing electric stun gun has a long range, but you can only hit one Mercenary at the same time. We're introducing the Sound Wave Gun (work in progress name) that acts as a high-energy acoustic weapon. It has a wide-spread like a shotgun, but a short range. It will make Mercenaries tumble over from up close, make them make a few step back at medium range and won't affect them physically at long range. It also disrupts the Mecenary's Sound wave Vision, which is a replacement for the known Motion Vision.
Mercenaries will have a limited amount of control over certain static defenses like laser grids and cameras. Some of that control may be enabled by using gadgets, but the plans for that haven't been decided yet. What we can share is that laser grids will turn off when a Mercenary is in range. This opens up new gameplay possibilities for sneaky Spies and will counter camping Mercs behind laser grids.
Of course Mercs can choose the location of their own defenses, like Mines and various trackers. That's still the same.
EB: What inspired the partner system, and what makes it better than just using something like Xfire or Steam to team-up?
FG: We noticed people who play often together are generally better because they use planning before playing a match, like discussing tactics over Skype or Xfire, and then they try them out. This gives a great feeling when the tactic has worked. A real sense of accomplishment. We want to stimulate people to get a partner to make the game more fun. By giving the Partner System a prominent place in the UI and adding the Points system for cosmetic perks we hope to achieve that. If you don't use the Partner System but prefer Steam. you miss out on the Points, but the goal itself is still achieved: co-operating with a teammate.
EB: There is no way to earn cosmetic perks otherwise?
FG: Well, yes, by just playing, but the progress will be slower
EB: Will Project Stealth purely be for purists, or has the team debated making a mode for new players to get them introduced to how everything works?
FG: Both! The lack of a proper advanced tutorial and no real emphasis on teamwork in previous tutorials makes it hard for new players to get the hang of it. We aim to have a good tutorial that also teaches common tactics and shows off advanced and subtle things you can use to your advantage. On top of that, we'll have a training mode which will go up to 4 vs 4 players in all-talk mode. Perfect for training with clans or teaching newbies the ropes.
EB: Will 4 vs 4 be an option outside of training?
FG: Not in the standard gameplay modes. We might consider something like that for a more action-paced mode, but that hasn't been decided yet. The main focus for now is on the normal 2 vs 2 mode.
EB: If the progression system is purely for cosmetic unlocks, how do you keep players balanced with loadouts? Will there be a weight system like in older games like FEAR 2 and Star Wars Battlefront: Renegade Squadron, or will their selections be slot-specific?
FG: Could you describe what you mean with "balanced with loadouts"?
EB: Well, like in, say, Battlefield 4. I can't take two RPGs, three pistols, and proximity mines. I'm limited by the loadout's predefinition of one rifle, one pistol, one grenade type, two special gear pieces (but only one RPG-like weapon available to me if those are available to my class), and a knife. There are a lot of variations across the multiplayer spectrum, but I was thinking more in the traditional shooter sense.
FG: Gadgets come in pre-determined amounts, like 3 frag grenades, per slot. Each gadget can only be picked once by each player. So both Mercenaries can pick "Frag Grenades" which gives each of them 3 frags. Your chosen loadout is completely separated from your team mate's. Of course it makes sense to communicate to your partner which items you want to pick so you can complement each other. Maybe your partner will pick RF Trackers for a chasing role, while you take Mines instead for a more defensive role. The same goes for Spies but then with different gadgets of course.
EB: And players can make their loadout even before a match starts?
FG: Yes, that's the idea. After the match has started, there's no way to change the loadout. Making a good decision that works for the gameplay style of you and your team mate is important. That's why having a Partner System should help you get familiar with the playstyle of your team mate.
EB: Plus it keeps the gameplay fair since you can't suddenly go from a shotgun to a silenced sniper rifle between lives.
FG: That is correct. You really have to strategize before the match. If you know the map has a lot of small rooms, choosing a shotgun for close-quarter fights will be better than picking the assault rifle. For Spies, if you know the map doesn't have a lot of static defenses, it doesn't make sense to pick Chaff Grenades.
EB: With all the high level concepts at play, are you hoping to have Project Stealth be a competitive multiplayer game in the sense that people can or will want to spectate master players? The sort of game someone might watch in a livestream?
FG: We want to support eSports by having tournaments, but it's currently unclear how big the audience will be. We think it definitely has the potential. The future will tell if it's something that's worth spending development time on.
EB: Fingers crossed! It’d be nice to see some stealth experts at work on Twitch. On the flipside, will there be any form of offline or local play for when players don't have an internet connection? Maybe some split-screen with an opposing team of bots?
FG: Bots will not be able to give you the same gameplay experience as a good human player. The lack of information about the Spies is also information. It's not easy to code this. Simple bots might be added in the far future, but for the time being you shouldn't count on it.
EB: That's fair. It is very hard to program good, stealthy AI even in AAA games like Assassin's Creed and The Last of Us.
EB: You've got PS4 and Xbox One ports as stretch goals. Do you plan to have controller support for PC or will that come later? Or only if a console port is developed?
FG: Controller support is a much requested feature. We will definitely look into that and will try to make it an equal experience to using keyboard and mouse.
EB: I'm sure controller users are just as pleased to hear they're in the consideration.
Your team has been in pre-production for over five years now. How does it feel to finally be on Kickstarter and making the game a reality?
FG: All the years of making Project Stealth up till now feel indeed like pre-production. Unreal Engine 4 gives us so much more power than Unreal Development Kit and workflows have been streamlined a lot. It's a great joy to make a feature that was hard to do in UDK in a few hours in UE4.
A successful Kickstarter will give us the opportunity to hire our volunteers to work on Project Stealth fulltime. Together with UE4 and the work we've done in the past that means the game can be finished in a relatively short amount of time
EB: Excellent, and best of luck to you guys!
Now, I usually like to offer something when I reach the end of the interview. A chance for you to ask me or my readers any question you'd like.
FG: How would you feel about Oculus Rift support?
EB: Heh, I'm not the best to ask. I'm not very excited for Rift personally I'm curious though, how would that work, for spies?I was under the impression they were in third person?
FG: That is a good point. We probably will only support it for the Merc initially, then work something out for the spies.
EB: Thank you for your time and please be sure to keep in touch!
It's been fantastic talking with you Frank. I hope we get to speak again soon and best of luck with Project Stealth!