Sam and Sash Break Down Splinter Cell by us

Sam Fisher. Professional Bad Ass.

So yesterday, we took some time off our tough and traumatic lives as Game Designers and Students in order to have a bit of fun. And by a bit of fun I mean a lot of fun. And by a lot of fun I mean Splinter Cell Conviction Co-op. Its worth sharing.

Sash:

I’m the kind of guy that always tries to play games stealthy. In MMO’s I choose thief, in strategy games I go out of my way to keep units alive and sneak up on the enemy. But I don’t think I have ever played a game where stealth really just works. It works in Splinter Cell Conviction, and it’s fun. The plan for this post is to discuss the fun we had, and work out how Splinter Cell makes it work.

Sam:

Stealth is rocking. I’m a huge fan of the Thief series; that game did stealth really really well. But Splinter Cell Conviction manages to make stealth more about being fun than about being realistic. Which leads to epic multi-hour long sessions of co-op.

Sash:

You know personally I think this is what all games should do, aim to create a particular experience that is awesome and do whatever it takes to get there. As opposed to getting caught up on being realistic, which might prohibit the intended experience from fully evolving. Some of the stuff in Splinter Cell is totally unrealistic, like the shadows and mark and execute, but it just refines its core experience.

Sam:

Not to say that Thief doesn’t do that and it rocks, it just has a different target experience. The goal of that game isn’t to be just about *fun*, but to be an interesting and holistic experience, even at the cost of immediate enjoyment. It’s a contrast to Splinter Cell, in which every single mechanic is designed around making the player feel like a futuristic ninja badass. And damn does Splinter Cell do it well.

Sash:

What does Thief do differently?

Sam:

Thief does risk/reward in a way so as to make the game incredibly tense. If you screw up it is a big deal. This tension is what the game is all about.

Sash:

Right, well that is completely different to Splinter Cell, which is more about planning and optimizing your kills vs stealth level, and it removes a bunch of the tension in order to really hone in on this experience. It really does stealth differently to anything I’ve seen done before.

Showing off Mark and Execute from the Shadows

Sam:

Thats what makes this game interesting. It’s a sneaky-type game, but the gameplay is relatively relaxed. And even if you screw up, the Last-Known-Position mechanic let’s you take another chance at being a ninja. For those who don’t know, the mechanic means you can see exactly where the enemies think you are, which allows you to fall back to a safe position knowing full well where the enemies will be heading.

Sash:

That mechanic really pushes the idea of more strategy-based game. In fact there are a bunch of other interesting mechanics which work to this end: like the shadow stealth meter, the Goal based controls, and the Mark and Execute system.

Sam:

Man I love the Mark and Execute mechanic. I was kind of worried it would make the game too easy, but there’s a really nice risk-reward process that goes a long with it. Basically it gives you the opportunity to get up to 4 guaranteed stealth kills after you have ninja’d someone in melee. What makes this really work though is that you can choose your targets before you get the melee kill.

Sash:

It really gives you the opportunity to plan out your kills. Again focusing on strategy, while you’re in the shadows you have the chance to work out exactly who you need to melee, who you will execute, what angle you should come at it from, how to get into position without being seen. This all happens in your head before you even need to touch the controls.

Sam:

Exactly. The fact that Shadow Stealth Meter tells you so cleanly when you’re hidden and when you’re not means that you can focus entirely on your planning without having to worry about not being seen.

Sash:

That thing is so useful, at first I thought it was a bit of a gimmick, but after about half an hour of gameplay I realized that I was really relying on it. It all links back into this core experience. Man, even the controls work in with this! They do some really interesting stuff, all the controls are goal based, and by that I mean they all help you achieve a goal instead of providing you the means to do so. It takes a bunch of skill out of where it isn’t needed which is cool, because it means you can just worry about planning stuff out.

Sam:

The way I would put it is that the controls manage to make the interface between the player’s hands and Sam Fisher as transparent as possible. The point is that in RL, people don’t think about individual actions, they just subconsciously do them in order to achieve whatever goal is in mind – and the controls reflect this. All of the mechanics we’ve discussed emphasize this idea of doing what you want to do, and making the challenge the strategy of the fight as opposed to the fight itself.

Sash:

That really is what is so fun about the game. It’s a strategy-like stealth game without you even knowing it. It makes you feel like you’re playing it like a third person shooter – which is bad ass given the stuff you pull off – but really you’re just not bogged down in the workings of the system. You can just DO IT. I love it. Play this game as soon as possible.

[youtube id="QvxuUuqZRIc" w="640" h="360"]

Wrapping Up

The game realizes what is so fun about stealth gameplay. It removes the stress of continually staying under cover and instead implements a system which was almost turn based in nature. The effect of this was profound; it changed the game from a twitch-based third person shooter into a game about planning, anticipation and strategy. It is in this experience that the core fun of stealth lies.

There is way more to the game than what we have discussed here, but the goal of this post was to talk about what we felt was interesting about the game. Specifically the way unique stealth experience is constructed through its mechanics. So don’t froth about how we glossed over the story line and graphics. Hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did playing and arguing about it.

This conversation is a bit of an experiment for us. We would love to hear some feedback about it!

Bit Battalion out.


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