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23 Jun 2014

The Fundamentals of Stealth Gameplay

I’m a sucker for any game that incorporates stealth into its gameplay. From the Metal Gear series to Splinter Cell to last year’s Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine (pictured above), stealth gameplay is one of those elements that if it’s even done remotely well, I’m all in. There’s something about sneaking around, disposing of enemies, and escaping without anyone knowing that you have been there that makes me excited. Exchanging fast, frantic action for slow, calculated movements, I love these types of games, and if you’re reading this, you probably do too.

Yet, what makes a stealth game great? What is it about a stealth game that excites fans of the genre? What’s the formula for an awesome stealth game – and how can indie developers avoid developing a stealth game that simply does not work well?

It’s the topic of today’s post. If you have contemplated designing a stealth game but are unsure as to what makes a stealth game truly awesome, then we’re here to help. Here are the fundamentals of what makes a stealth game truly memorable.


It has to make sense for the protagonist

Sam Fisher. Solid Snake. Garrett. What do all of these protagonists have in common (minus starring in their own stealth games)? The answer: they use stealth to their advantage because, at least in the world of each respective series, these three men are incapable of surviving rounds of bullets, dozens of stabs with a blade, etc. If you’re playing a Metal Gear Solid game and you get shot only a few times, you’re dead, and you have to start your mission all over again.

These protagonists in these games (and other games like them) are human. They can’t withstand waves of bullets like Max Payne in the Max Payne series. So what do they do? They have to do their part to stay hidden – to hide in the shadows and pick their moments to attack and progress forward in the objective.

This makes sense in the world of the game. With every character not being invincible (sure, they’re all bad ass, but not invincible), it makes sense in the game’s world for each respective character to take their time, sneak around, and progress toward their objective. If there were stealth components in Halo? It wouldn’t make a lot of sense – especially since Master Chief is capable of destroying entire armies by himself.

Thus, if you are going to develop an indie game that uses stealth elements, ensure there’s a reason for it. You never want the player thinking to themselves that the stealth elements do not make sense. Give the character weaknesses and make it difficult/next to impossible for the character to be able to run and gun his/her way through an area without dying. Place an emphasis on stealth, ensure it makes sense, and you will be on the right track to developing a proper stealth game.


Movement is everything

One of the other fundamentals of a good stealth title is to ensure that the movement makes sense as well. How much fun would players have if controlling Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell felt like controlling a tank? It would be terrible. Fisher is supposed to feel spry, athletic, and needs to be able to scurry up buildings and walls quite quickly. Controlling a slow, bloated Fisher? Again, it would be terrible.

Yet, the movement from one stealth title to another differs. Take Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater for example. Snake (Naked Snake, Big Boss – whatever you want to call him) moves quite quickly, yet he feels much more stiff compared to Solid Snake in previous Metal Gear Solid games. Even so, it makes perfect sense in the environment each respective character is in, because….

Environment must dictate a character’s movement

How a character must move relies solely on the game’s environment. A stealth game that takes place in the desert has no need for a character that can do a bunch of wall jumps and hide on top of ceilings, right? Of course not! Rather, the character starring in a stealth game that takes place in a desert needs to be able to blend into their surroundings instead of relying on quick, unique jumps.

See what I mean? The environment of your game must align perfectly with how your character moves (and vice-versa). The two elements need to operate simultaneously in perfect harmony. If you do that? You’re on the right track.

Other elements

  • Cover
    • How will players hide themselves from the enemy?
  • Visibility
    • How will players hide from the enemy?
  • Blending in
    • Consider giving the player a chance to blend in with their surroundings.
    • It adds another element to allowing players to hide among the enemy.

  • Tools of the trade
    • What are the tools players will need to use in order to complete their objective?
    • Gadgets? Silenced pistols? Scimitars? Mind control?
    • Think of unique, quiet ways that players can eliminate enemies to get from point A to point B.Again, ensure that it makes sense. After all, you don’t want players to be forced to fire a loud assault rifle in a stealth game.


That’s the basics of what makes stealth games ‘work.’ Stealth indie games are unique in that you have to make the player feel as if they are only human while making them feel empowered enough to complete their objectives anyway – all the while ensuring that the stealth gameplay makes sense in-game. It’s a tricky genre to develop, but in the end, it can be a lot of fun, too.


Have any questions or comments? Let us know in the comments below!

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