The Class of ’98 | Stealth Game History

The Class of ’98 | Stealth Game History


After Konami published ‘Metal Gear 2:
Solid Snake’ in 1990, video games with stealth-based gameplay seemed to disappear. Action-focused gameplay was at the heart of gaming during the early nineties and a new generation of gamers seized upon the platformers, shooters, racers and
fighting games that had proven themselves to be highly marketable. It was only towards the middle of the
decade, with the launch of 32-bit and 64-bit console systems, that the scope
for games development widened considerably. Rich 3D environments for
players to navigate became the new space for innovation in game design. Naturally, that meant we had to keep
shooting, jumping and running along the way. But in 1998 three video games
challenged us to think differently about how to approach an environment full of
enemies. Those games were ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’, ‘Metal Gear Solid’ and ‘Thief: The Dark Project’. This was the Class of ’98 – and it changed
video games forever… ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’ was to be the
first of these 3D stealth-based games, casting players as the ninjas Rikkimaru and Ayame in feudal Japan. Released on the playstation console in February 1998, it featured a sticky camera, a third
person view point and flexible character models capable of jumping, crawling, rolling and climbing. It brought a mix of stealth-based elements into the game space that allowed players to fight enemies on their own terms. In ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’ you could sneak up on every guard you could find, executing them with single well-timed strikes. The only exceptions to this were the unskippable boss and mini boss battles; a mainstay of traditional game design,
these encounters tested the player’s skill in combat, rather than their
ability to remain hidden. ‘Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’ rewarded
players with points for staying undetected and for killing enemies.
Guards who were neutralized without being alerted were worth four times as many points as those killed in a direct, messy confrontation. Penalties were also
applied to the end of mission score if the player was detected, or if they
harmed innocent bystanders By reaching high schools players could unlock equipment to use in subsequent missions: health potions, shuriken, grenades and
smoke bombs – to name just a few… However, by scoring high enough to finish
a mission at the Grandmaster rank players can also unlock special unique
items. Some of these were very useful indeed, while others were simply fun or
inventive – changing up the pace of the stealth-based gameplay experience 1998 was still a relatively early point in 3D game design and ‘Tenchu Stealth Assassins’ was restricted by the technical limitations of the playstation console. Missions were deliberately set at night where in-game environments could be rendered closer to
the player without breaking the suspenseful atmosphere. Nevertheless, this meant you had to put
up with an egregious level of pop-in and not being able to see more than a few
feet in front of you, which made scouting ahead for danger much more difficult… So the ‘Ki Meter’ was put in place to
compensate for this. Sat in the bottom-left corner of the screen, the Ki Meter allowed players to see
when an enemy was nearby, roughly how close they were and what
their current state of awareness was. Essentially acting as a very basic form
of personal radar. The ‘!’ and ‘?’ first seen in the Metal Gear games nearly a decade previously were used as symbols for the A.I.’s awareness levels. These symbols and the numbers next to
them would increase in size as the player drew closer to enemies. While not the most intuitive of tools, the Ki Meter definitely served its purpose well enough, enabling you to avoid unfavorable encounters. You were, after all, a ninja… …able to sense danger and overcome it
with swift, decisive actions. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’ design
encouraged tactical gameplay, rather than top-heavy action and button mashing. Combat against more than one foe at a time was a risky prospect and almost
deliberately awkward, pushing players towards scenarios where they were at an advantage. This helped to conjure a true sense of
being a sneaky ninja, rather than a simple thug with a sword. The game demonstrated a clear desire for players to infiltrate it systems and exploit
whatever weaknesses they could. Although it may have taken inspiration from popular 3D action titles like ‘Tomb Raider’, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins
clearly set itself apart from mainstream gaming and introduced
a number of key features peculiar to modern Stealth Game design. In many ways it pioneered a lot of what
would become commonplace in stealth-based videogames for the years that followed. For instance: you could perform cinematic stealth kills on enemies, which served no
real purpose here beyond acting as a reward for precise timing and remaining
undetected. Nonetheless, this violent mark of
expertise was appreciated by gamers… It was possible for you to hug walls and
peek around corners without being seen, as long as nearby guards weren’t too
close to spot you. Crouching in shadows or vegetation would also help you to stay hidden. Hilariously, guards could be paralyzed
by eating poisoned rice balls thrown by your character. A clever tactic was to lure an enemy
away from their patrol route with one of these delicious balls
of poisoned rice… …then assassinate them before they could eat it. Misdirection and hunger for poisoned
rice balls were powerful tools indeed. However, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins’
most ambitious contribution was the grappling hook. A device that allowed players to reach high ground in a matter of seconds, or fly from rooftop to rooftop, the
grappling hook brought an element of verticality to the game’s missions that resonated with budding stealth enthusiasts. It’s also worth mentioning that
enemy patrols and positions for each mission were randomly assigned to one of
three possible configurations. Meaning that only the most experienced
of players would know where to look for danger. This gave a palpable boost to the game’s
replay value. far from perfect and far from pretty, Tenchu: Stealth Assassins hasn’t aged well since its release back in the late nineties… …And it’s certainly a game that stealth enthusiasts seem to have forgotten about in the wake of more popular stealth-action titles like the Assassins Creed and Batman Arkham series. Regardless, its contribution to stealth games should be recognised and celebrated This first entry in the Class of ’98 was
remarkably ambitious, helping to ignite gamers’ passions for being sneaky, violent bastards. eight years after having produced metal
gear to solid snake Hideo Kojima and his development team at
konami unleashed what many consider to be a masterpiece there was little doubt that metal gear
solid was a groundbreaking game when it first emerged on the PlayStation on
September third back in nineteen ninety-eight it question the very nature
of the video game medium sometimes literally and brought a mixture of
gameplay and cinematic qualities together in an almost unprecedented
union however what truly impressed gamers and
critics about Metal Gear Solid where its stealth based elements of game design
have to take the elevator to the surface but make sure nobody sees you from its
outset Metal Gear Solid seemed to share a lot of the narrative qualities that
defined its 2d predecessors players take on the role of a lone operative solid
snake and attempt to stop a nuclear threat by infiltrating a hostile
stronghold while Metal Gear Solid Snake was a
combination of various proto stealth gameplay characteristics are durably
forming the first comprehensive stuff based gaming experience metal gear solid led a natural
progression of these characteristics into the 3d game space Hideo Kojima and his team having
embraced the idea of a 3d stuff based game were smart enough to recognize
gameplay weaknesses before they became problematic and so gave the player tools
to read their surroundings the salat on radar for instance or an
overhaul from being a static display square to a fully mobile tracking device it kept the players position in the
center highlighting nearby enemies and security devices vision cones alongside
environmental features such as walls the radar could also displayed the locations
of claymore mines with use of mine detector as well as key objectives the
player had to reach the solid on radar proved to be crucial in the 3d game
environment as players controlled solid snake from a variety of camera angles
this visual perspective could have made metal gear solid start gameplay a
difficult thing to engage with given that what players could see on screen
was limited but by having this small 2d plan of the immediate game space we could see precisely where snake was
and precisely where nearby enemies were the source on radar shared a similar
principle with tension stealth assassins kii meter feeding the player information
on their surroundings this didn’t prevent the developers from
throwing the old curveball however the salon radar was jammed in some locations
forcing players to switch to a first-person view points and scan their
surroundings manually for danger and on higher difficulty settings the radar
wasn’t available at all snake himself had been made into a more
versatile action character close quarters combat moves including the
abilities to throw choke and for the more sadistic players among us kill
guards by snapping their next snake was still able to make use crouching and
crawling under obstacles to avoid getting spotted what could mount smaller
objects in the environment including ladders and flatten himself against
surfaces while flattened snake could knock on
surfaces to create noise and distract guards from their patrols the selection
of weapons and equipment available to players was expanded upon to notably
with different types of grenades that could stun organic or electronic enemies
and cardboard boxes that not only provide a convenient camouflage but also
announce next to be delivered by truck to different parts of the shadow moses
base unlike tensions stealth assassins Metal
Gear Solid didn’t use a scoring system we’re killing guards was mandatory to
make good progress however many of your encounters with
God’s were optional scenarios and killing them wasn’t actively discouraged
by anything immediate accept the possibility of triggering an alert mode that being said the game did assign a
code name two players at the end based on the number of factors including how
often they were detected and how many enemies they killed aside from snakes burhans there was one
weapon in the game that could kill enemies quietly and that was the
so-called pistol with the optional suppressor attachment everything else was loud brash and
nearly always triggered an alert mode the fam assault rifle claymore mine c-4
explosives grenades the psg1 sniper rifle Stinger missiles and perhaps the
most innovative weapon of all the Nikita manually guided rocket launcher metal gear solid it was definitely not afraid of giving
players all the firepower in the world despite its tagline tactical espionage
action so how did it manage to become one of
the most iconic stealth games of all time well as with metal gear to solid snake
intentions stealth assassins there were different states of enemy alertness in
Metal Gear Solid each characterized by a set of AI behaviors designed to
challenge the player in Metal Gear Solid these were organized under different
modes infiltration mode noise mode alert mode and invasion mode that mode was triggered if you ran into
a laser sensor if enemies heard gunfire or explosions or if snake was spotted
during a la mode the service on radar was disabled changing to a timer that
countdown to when the alert would be suspended until the time of ran out all
guards in the vicinity would converge on your last known location and call for
reinforcements shooting you on-site security cameras would focus on you if
they were close enough keeping the alert time are held at
maximum while also turrets would track and shoot you if you broke cover once the time of ran out an alert mode
was downgraded to invasion mode and guards would continue to move through
the game space investigating any trace of player activity until the time to
drop to zero once again after which the standard mode infiltration mode was
restored noise mode would have a single guard investigating signs of player
activity usually when they ran out surfaces or distracted gods by knocking
on walls as with tension start assassins and indeed the previous Metal Gear games
clever players could exploit loopholes in Metal Gear Solid enemy AI example if
you approach to passive guard undetected and beat them up or shot them or through
them then ran away you would trigger noise mode but
strangely enough not an alert mode of course it was possible to avoid killing
the guards and setting off alarms up to a point metal gear solid
commitment to a narrative involving special forces soldiers the morality of
killing nuclear weapons and the nature of war in general dictated that certain
enemies and boss characters had to die along the way but on a technical level
Metal Gear Solid was smart with his environment design by dividing the huge
shadow moses base into smaller contains sections the game maximize the
playstation consoles processing power without compromising on the quality of
its visuals so convincing the problems tension stealth assassins had run into
with its expansive mission areas despite its willingness to throw players
into violent confrontations Metal Gear Solid clearly adhere to the principles
of stealth based gameplay players who constantly set off alarms
especially at higher difficulty settings would not last long even if they did their equipment rations
and ammunition would be hard to maintain scarcity and efficiency were prime
movers in Metal Gear Solid stock-based experience what it achieved for stealth
games and gaming in general or the degree of openness that defied
conventional boundaries on paper this tactical stealth based third person
action game shouldn’t have worked but it did without it we simply wouldn’t have
had the variety of methods tactics and mechanisms that permeate modern stuff
based games today let alone the narratives that compliment them in short
Metal Gear Solid didn’t just experiment with stuff based gameplay it showed the appeal stuff based gaming
held for modern gamers laying the foundations for multiple competing
franchises and experiments in game design is inspired a generation of
budding developers without metal gear solid stuff based games would not have
enjoyed the same boost in popularity from mainstream audiences and as a
result we would probably now have less of them yeah released on pc in November 1998 if the . project was the result of an
ambitious yet costly development cycle under the care of Looking Glass Studios
faced with the challenge of appealing to mainstream gaming audiences think that
our project was billed as a first-person sneaker a marketing friendly variation
of the first person shooter or fps genre this game play trains had started with
doom back in 1993 and progressed with games like quake and goldeneye
double-oh-seven but thief the dark project was different your goals were more complex than
shooting at bad guys you had to infiltrate various locations
and steal as much losses you could find ideally without getting caught by
enemies who could easily overpower year this game drew upon the idea of
immersive stuff keeping players fixed on a first person perspective with a
minimal yet reassuringly familiar heads up display health consumable items and
current weapon selection was still present and correct and they worked as
you would expect them so however none of these typical FPS indicators were is
crucial to you as the visibility jen nestled comfortably in the bottom center
of the screen Looking Glass Studios built their own
game engine to maximize the interplay of light and shadow in the game
environments players had to use shadows as cover and this aspect of the game play posed
an interesting set of challenges for the developer because you needed to know
where you could stay out of sight and where you will get spotted by enemies the visibility gem was looking glass
studio solution it show players just how detectable they were at any given time
as they moved through the game space or selected different types of weapons the
brighter the gem the higher the chances were those
enemies could spot you it even came with little yellow and red
warning lights just in case you didn’t know this is fully lit visibility jim
was a bad thing this was the dark projects equivalent
attention staff assassins kii meter and metal gear solid solid on radar it’s important to note that all three of
these games each had unique visual indicators that could tell us about our
environments but like its contemporaries think the dark project didn’t stop with
how much you could see or be seen I could hear that try again remember
walk on quiet surfaces and move slowly the game’s sound design was equally
important one of the first things players learned in thief the dark
project was that walking jumping and running movement in general created
noise and this change depending on what surface they were moving on enemies make
noise – of course so what players could hear would help
them to understand when danger was nearby and react accordingly players
quickly familiarize themselves with different types of environment soft
carpet tile door wooden flooring gravel and metal on top of that they had to
take note of how well-lit their environment was was the quietest route
across an open area also the darkest if not did you choose to run across knowing
that your footsteps would be louder and therefore possibly attract attention
from nearby enemies decisions on how to navigate thief the . projects
environments were constantly being made based on the ever-present risk of being
seen or heard the world of thief the dark project was one that communicated
primarily through sound enemy guards for example made noise while they patrolled
not just with their footsteps they also harmed they talk to themselves and even to each
other they opened and closed doors with excessive loudness in the context of
stuff based gameplay this was important if you could he
regard walking around and humming or talking to themselves this informed you of two things firstly
that there was a potential threat nearby secondly that this threat was currently
unaware of your presence this was information players could
understand without any visual indicators of course there were similar audio
choose intentions stealth assassins and metal gear solid we’re gods made noises to denote their
state of alertness but the enemies in thief the dark
project with far more expressive a little bit more nuanced and could be
heard from much further away if alerted to the players presence the
sounds guards made would change even if you were out of sight it was still
possible to hear them calling to allies for help or attempting to track you down
once spotted especially if multiple gods were involved it was often more sensible
to simply run away than to fight having created these challenging
environments for us to infiltrate in concur with stuff Looking Glass Studios gave players the
tools they needed to tip the balance in their favor thanks the dark project generated an
internal dialogue between the player and the I that went beyond spotting or
attacking each other into a relationship of spatial awareness and exploitation we had a toolset made primarily for
misdirection and manipulation rather than simple killing fire-based light
sources could be extinguished with water arrows for sarah has created a soft
carpet on noisy surfaces modeling any footsteps row Paris provided access to
alternative pathways lockpicks we used to open doors if you didn’t have a key
handy enemies could be drawn away from their patrols with noisemaker arrows or
blinded by a carefully tossed flash bomb naturally photos could also be
neutralized with lethal or non-lethal force knocking guards unconscious could be
done quietly while killing them would cause them to cry out alerting anyone nearby blood stains or
bodies left on the floor were also a potential give away but low could be
cleaned up with water arrows and bodies could be hidden every action felt like it had a
permanent impact on the game space and that impact could communicate something
to read that the player or to the enemy AI indeed killing enemies was portrayed
as messy and provocative to the extent that some missions on harder
difficulties explicitly forbade players to use lethal force however this wasn’t all the game had to
offer as an immersive stealth experience small details like movement bombing and
being able to lean to see around corners as well as picking up and hiding guards
unconscious or dead bodies which didn’t disappear after a fixed amount of time
by the way help to set a tone of realism previously unseen by gamers if the dark project war its heritage
from first person shooters on its sleeve nowhere is this more apparent than in
the so-called monster missions of the game where the act of killing certain
enemy types such as zombies barracks or elementals is almost encouraged an early
example of this is in the third mission down in the bone hard here the player is
tasked with robbing an ancient soon hidden in a series of vaults that are
populated by undead enemies it’s a natural reaction to pull out the
holy water arrows and start killing these creatures off once you reach the
last section of the level scenarios like this where the stuff based gameplay can
be put on hold for some gutsy first-person action continued to pop up
throughout the game particularly our missions that feature non-human
opponents free from the trappings of console technology Looking Glass Studios were able to build
more complex game environments making beef the dark project a truly spacious
stealth experience with wide open holes were in cities cathedrals and catacombs
the players to explore every mission setting told a story flushing out the world and the
compelling believable fashion thief the dark project was also the first 3d stop
based game to feature a mission where players had to follow certain NPCs
without being detected as a whole the game question the nature of the FPS and
demonstrated the video games could achieve things beyond players
expectations to engage in conflict first person gameplay could be allowed to
evolve into new experiences new interactions altogether given the right design choices think the
dark projects experimental approach also contributed to the genesis of other
first-person games that have since become icons in their own right including fire shock and deus ex
ultimately thief the . project suffer the problems of the lengthy development
cycle but emerged as a challenger a rebel against the status quo of
first-person gaming that dared to suggest hiding from enemies was as fun
as gunning them down and for this it remains a venerated
piece of gaming history if we compare these three titans of
stuff based gaming it’s clear that tension stealth
assassins metal gear solid and if the dark project are incredibly different in
terms of design three different methods of play three different characters and
world settings three different approaches to the
stealth based experience and yet all of them are regarded as having laid the
foundations for modern stealth games from 1998 on words are multitude of game
developers would regard stealth based gameplay as a plausible form of game
design and go on to create unique gaming experiences of their own some developers would attempt and be
like the designs of tension stealth assassins or metal gear solid or if the
dart project more directly in the years after their initial release and how
successful these attempts have been is open to question but here’s the point the title as you
see here are just a few samples from the creative explosion in stock based game
design that occurred after 1998 there are many more I couldn’t fit on
the timeline not to mention the games that adapted stealth based gameplay as
an alternative flavor to traditional more action-heavy approaches all of them
can trace their key influences back to the three games i like to call the class
of 9810 shoe store for assassins metal gear solid think the dark project
and their developers were the architects of modern stuff based games and a
renaissance installed based game design a class of assassins snakes and thieves I just like to offer a very special
thank you to my sponsors and subscribers you’ve all been patient with me i really
appreciate it and i hope this video has been worth the wait and thank you yes you for watching if
you’re a keen stealth game or gaming enthusiasts who wants to help me make
more of these splendid videos you can sponsor me on patreon you’ll get access
to need things like directors commentary on previous episodes outtakes news on
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cut from previous episodes for one reason or another thanks for coming and hopefully i’ll
talk to you again soon

25 comments / Add your comment below

  1. you did it again.
    yet another , intellectual complex detailed and immersive video retrospecting the history of stealth gaming.
    i must say that less than a few more things can make me more happy than this kind of video made by someone as talented and "effortful" as you , without leaving a stone unturned or a mechanic out of lecture you did amazing job at compiling everything these games contributed to the stealth genre. i will say this ironically but.. "cant wait for the next episode".
    And wish you well Stealth Docs!

  2. Glad to see you got the second video out! Hope you got my message before.

    I have been trying to figure out why exactly 1998 was the year of stealth convergence and it's so strange to think about why it was deemed necessary to have this category right in the middle of difficulties with 3D games. Of course, ultimately it's good for us, but it is an anomaly in the history of genre development.

    On Thief, I did talk with Eric Brosius about some of the sound design in the game. He gave me a nice overview on his approaches, and the fact that he placed all non-dynamic sounds in the environment himself. I think those touches really give Thief it's life further into the game, making it a lot more than a "simulation".

  3. That is why for me 1998 is the best year in gaming history.. Titles like Resident evil, Thief, Tenchu, MetalgearSolid and many more proves it.

  4. man am I excited to see this video, was really worried you abandoned this channel. Great videos, will be waiting for the next one.

  5. For anyone who's interested, here's an update on what's coming next and some general gratitude for the attention being shown to my work. Don't say I never keep you informed!

    https://www.patreon.com/posts/splendid-news-5744995

  6. i love how Friday The 13th will utilize both offensive stealth(for jason) and evasive stealth(for teens)
    its cool to see a stealth vs stealth game while some other games make it action vs stealth like in spies vs mercs mode or that batman arkham online game. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vZNU3bHVtw you think what im thinking?

  7. Thief is still my favorite game of all time and stealth my favorite genre to this day. I played almost all of the games you showed on your list and I am now looking into "Miss Take" because I did not know that one.

    I even started making my own little stealth game which is why I looked for analyses into the topic which brought me here 🙂

  8. I can't help but to hate Metal Gear Solid because I have such appreciation for Looking Glass' simulation-based design philosophy. MGS is such a simplistic arcade experience that is barely an evolution from its late 80's predecessors, and in contrast Thief is alien technology from the future. But really the reason for my dislike for MGS was its relative popularity due to the popularity of the new platform it was released on.

    So this cringy animé pac-man with boss fights and 4th wall jokes became the quintessential "stealth" -game of 1998, and ran guns blazing past the superior sneaker into the public spotlight. I suppose it's fitting in a strangely poetic way.

  9. Why do you consider Assassin's Creed to be a stealth game? Sure it's got some stealth elements, but it's not a full on stealth game

  10. always more than a thousand views , yet always less than 50 comments , interesting.

    btw heres a real comment question, what part of your week you dedicate to editing these? evenings? wekkends? nights?

  11. Good vid. But I have to disagree with you on the level design comparison between Tenchu and MGS. MGS did look better but Tenchu at least the good levels were much larger and more open. The big problem with MGS' level design was that the docks and the part after are the most open parts of the game. The rest of it is a linear taperoll. It's why it bugs me why people bash MGS5 for being incomplete when MGS1 has its fair share of shit that never gets used again or not at all like non human enemies, smacking a wall, and guards seeing footprints. Even the VR missions felt more open than the main game.

    I do like MGS but mainly for the story.

    You hit the nail on the head with Thief however.

  12. 3 of my favorite games of ALL TIME. though i love MGS3 and Tenchu 2 and Thief 2 more, but that's like saying i love $500 more than $450.

  13. Tenchu was the first stealth game I played and really appreciated. It was the first time I found myself replaying missions over and over trying to get perfect stealth completions. Thief was great every time I got a small sit down with it at friend's houses, but I didn't own a PC at the time unfortunately.

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