Code Name: Stealth

April 22, 2016

I’ve previously blogged about one of my current projects, the upcoming Sleuthhounds Halloween adventure, and indicated that that’s only taking about ten hours of my time per week. The rest of my time has been divided between several other projects, one of which I’m ready to unveil some early information about. It’s another computer game that I’m currently developing under the code name Stealth because (A) it’s a sort of stealth game and (B) code names are cool.

Currently, I’m envisioning Stealth being a narratively strong game that follows the story of two modern day thieves as they pull off different heists. I’m a big fan of the classic Thief stealth series and will doubtless be drawing inspiration from it as I develop this game. However, whereas Thief goes for a dark and somewhat gritty atmosphere, with my own game I’m envisioning something different. For Stealth I want to make a game that feels more like the glossy Ocean’s Eleven movies from the early 2000s. I want to evoke the feeling of fun and adventure those movies had and the quick witted dialog would be great to have too.

I’ve been working on this project on and off since February, but just in the last week or so have switched it to be my main focus. The first key step was to get the basics of the presentation style down. The Sleuthhounds games have all been done as 2D hand drawn, animated games. However, Stealth will be taking a step into the next dimension, meaning it’s going to be a real-time 3D game.

Despite the difference in presentation style (3D versus 2D) and in game genre (stealth versus adventure), this new game will be similar to the Sleuthhounds games in that it will be heavily story focused. As such, a lot of the technical work I’ve done on the Sleuthhounds games will actually be applicable to this new game. In looking for the path of least resistance, I realized that I’d be farther ahead if I took my existing game technology and enhanced it to support 3D levels and models rather than to turn my attention to other development alternatives such as Unity or Unreal.

I have a lot of ideas for this game and how it will work. So many, in fact, that I don’t exactly know what the final game will be like. To sort that out, my goal is to create a prototype level as quickly as possible. I need something put together that I can use to play around with the balance of stealth, storytelling, and puzzle solving (environmental and otherwise). To get to that point, I needed the ability to display and move animated 3D characters through 3D spaces.

[Early level and character model render with some default Quake 3 textures.]
Early level and character model render with some default Quake 3 textures.

I was a fan of Quake 3 Arena when it first released back in 1999. Back then I did some mod programming as well as creating several levels for the game with the GTKRadiant editing tool. Since my goal is to get a prototype up and operational as quickly as possible, it seemed like a good idea to use tools that I was familiar with. I spent a couple of days researching the Quake 3 map file format and adding support for it to my own game tech. That took care of levels.

For the 3D character models I turned my attention to the old but still serviceable MilkShape 3D low-poly count editing software. Again, this was done for expedience as I was already familiar with the MilkShape tool and even had some older code for loading MilkShape models. Adding support for 3D character models took a bit longer than the game levels. This was due to having to get a flexible skeletal animation system in place as well – that’s the good thing about game levels, they’re static so they don’t need skeletal animation systems or any of that complexity.

Once I got the levels and characters loading, it was the work of a couple of hours to extend my existing walking system from the Sleuthhounds games to handle walking 3D characters through a 3D space. And now that I can do that I’m all set to make rapid progress on the prototype level. As I mentioned earlier, I fully expect to use most of the existing tech from the Sleuthhounds games to power Stealth. Be sure to check back in the coming weeks for more details and (hopefully) more impressive screenshots as the prototype develops.