What Makes Stealth & (Online) Co-op Fun?

I’m working on this co-op stealth game prototype, and one part of my design is to gather tons of ideas around the core game design. I’ve re-tested some games such as Thief (which in my opinion was – and still is – the best stealth game there is in the market), Assassins Creed (gets repetitive and bit boring), Hitman (which comes close to what I really enjoyed in stealth/disguise) and Splinter Cell (the theme didn’t suit me, and somehow the camera/controls felt clumsy) to mention most played ones.

I want the game to be about that one-timer experience (which as an ice hockey term might be slightly confusing): the levels will be made so that both players are needed for the victory. A pretty good example is in a below video: (where other guy distracts the guard by making noise from the “shadows”, while the other guy gets the key when the guard is distracted)

In the last years, I hardly even remember playing single-player games (well, a bit yes, but not much) and most of my gaming experience comes from online multiplayer games. It’s left to see whether this experience will show in creating the game, but I have confidence in creating the game such that I would enjoy… and then of course if some others that’s an added bonus.

I started by doing some research and here’s some articles (and a video) about games that use stealth in some form.

Shinobido: Way of the Ninja

1UP: What Stealth is

Splinter Cell: Conviction Co-Op Map Walkthrough Video

Handbook for stealth games:

New stealth games we would kill to play:

In case you have any good resources to share, please feel free to let me know.

What makes stealth & co-op fun?
Here’s some – very few – points that I like in co-op & stealth games.

I loved the L4D system where you need to help the other guy up when he is down. That’s a bloody simple (and probably very unrealistic, since the guy starts running the minute he is up) and it works brilliantly. I could imagine having something similar: a guard (or two) gets the other ninja surrounded, but the other ninja can come throw smoke bomb to help the other guy vanish.

In Army of Two, there was similar: one guy cannot climb up to a high cliff, but when the one guy first pushes the other upwards he can then give hand and help also the first guy up to the cliff. Brilliant.

I could imagine having system where one ninja could give hand signals to the other ninja (like: “drop now!”) who cannot see the guards, and must trust on the hand signals.

Or, after getting to a tower, the first ninja can throw a rope to the other who can then climb up. I bet there’s tons of different and simple ideas which translate into fun* gaming experience.

*fun = here of course meaning the sort of fun that *I* like

And stealth is fun when it’s done like in Thief (or Hitman). In Thief you had to stay in the shadows and guards went pass you. Thief’s 1st person mode probably adds a dimension that I cannot replicate (due the fact that I will do 2D prototype), but we’ll see if something similar can be received.

Lights were also very important in Thief, although I won’t have dynamic lights and the “dark areas where you can hide” are probably differently done.

And of course stealth is about stealth: moving silently without killing anyone. In some games you could execute kills (which was pretty fun in Hitman), but I’ve yet to decide if I want to have that sort of stuff in the game. If I see that giving the possibility to do stealth kills helps build the co-op experience (like the ninjas simultaneously killing 2 guards from the shadows) then I can consider it, but there’s already so many action oriented stealth games (read: all of the current “stealth” games are like that), that I’m better off by focusing more on stealth rather than action.

The last – and most important – part of co-op games are of course human players. That’s why I design the game to be played online with other people first (and solo play is just “added bonus”). It’s the humans that bring variety into any game. Even though it might sound stupid but there’s not a single repetitive game in NHL ’10 when you go play online. All the matches are different – since there’s humans.

Next steps
Of course this is still in a very, very, very early prototype level and after more stuff gets done and if the prototype feels interesting enough, I’ll consider doing a game out of it. Right now I feel that I’m getting forward with this and have been working on a (very simple) game design document while doing the prototype.

And of course I’ve drawn some new ninja graphics.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. @mikeful: yeh, I’ve actually tested that some weeks ago me thinks. It has cool ninja art :)

    @Tobias: “Knocking them out one by one” is something that I liked in Hitman (well, not all of them). I’ll write this thing down…

  2. Thief is one of my all time favourite games, and I’m constantly playing new fan missions.
    What I like most is buildings, try to not get lost ist them, find out the guards and knock them out them one by one (no kills). If that’s accompagnied by a good story, some secrets which are not too difficult to find (using hints from readables, for example), and a few secrets then you have what I think is a really good missions.
    Doing something along this line in a coop game should be even better… but for me, the discovery of the place, and getting into some nice story, is really what I like most.

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