Communications are deadly, and your brain is your best weapon in multiplayer spy game Intruder
Rob Storm has been building Intruder for ten years. Since he learned to mod the Source engine in high school he's been chipping away at this concept lodged in his brain that won't come loose.
It's a multiplayer spy game from Superboss Games that's built from the ground up to be a story-based experience. It's not a game with a slowly unfolding narrative with characters and a plot. Rather, it's a multiplayer game built to facilitate personal narratives that emerge from gameplay.
“My main method [of adding elements to the game] is to think of an interesting story,” said Storm. “And then take that cool story that's exciting to tell people, and reverse engineer that into a set of gameplay mechanics that come from that story you want to fulfill.”
I've talked to three people about this game, and so far everyone immediately wants to tell you about their most intense moment with the game, even if they've only played it for an hour.
I playtested the game recently with a group of testers and friends, and the experience reminds me quite a bit of Splinter Cell's “Spies vs Mercs” multiplayer mode (Intruder actually pre-dates that game by a year) with a touch of Counter-Strike thrown in. A team of guards and a team of spies square off inside a large office building inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright (the only level currently in the game, although others are being worked on.) You know the game. Guards must protect the packages; Spies must steal them.
What happens in between is quite often magical.
Swapping war stories
Storm's method of building player narratives is remarkably effective. As I write this I have to fight the urge to fill up three quarters of this article with anecdotes about the memorable moments that happened to me when playing the game. Much of the time these stories revolve around communication, or the lack of communication.
Players have access to a radio tool which allows them to communicate with their team anywhere in the level when activated, but your voice chat is also three dimensional. Which means that enemies within range of you can hear your messages to your team, and even get an idea of where you might be hiding based on how soft or loud your voice is. Voice chat is a risk.
The thrill of hiding silently in the air ducts and overhearing the other team speculate about where you might be can't be overstated. It's enough to make you giggle when you've fooled them, or turn pale when they've got you pegged.
Lack of communication can be just as terrifying though. Trying to communicate with a teammate only to get nothing but stark silence in reply is haunting. Not only are you now alone, but you may have just given away your position and your plan in order to talk to a dead teammate. Cleverly, Intruder allows you to turn the radio on and off quickly to create a buzzing noise that your allies will hear. It's not much, but it's enough to let your pals know you've received information or that you're still alive, even if you can't afford to say that out loud.
You'll have to be analyzing the situation constantly and coordinating with your teammates if you're going to survive. The game is designed to be a thinking experience. “We've had some people come in who are used to playing modern shooter-type games,” said Storm. “They've tried to play the game like that, and they would get easily, easily defeated basically 100% of the time.”
The entire game is built to be played slowly and cautiously. It's more important to be inside your enemy's head than to be quicker on the draw, and Storm seems to have zero interest in making a game that's more suitable for the run-and-gunners. He's confident that people will come around to this style of play once they realize that it's truly the most effective strategy.
“In multiplayer games, people tend to move towards whatever strategies win,” he said. “In a lot of multiplayer games right now there might be some cool features or weapons, but people wont use them if they're not critical to winning. And I feel like the people who are communicating and using our tactics are the people who are winning more often.”
In a game this slow-moving and psychological it's important to use every tool at your disposal to ensure your safety and ascertain the enemy's location. Whether it's using your mouse wheel to slowly crack open doors or using the camera-on-a-stick tool to peer around corners, or even plopping down a cardboard cutout of yourself, every aspect of the game is built around subterfuge and psychology.
The biggest testament to the game's success, even at this early stage of development, is that Storm himself can't seem to stop telling stories about his own play. Three separate times during our 25 minute talk he excitedly jumped into a story about what he'd been able to pull on another player.
“Someone set up a sensor and some remote charges in the bathroom once,” he said. The guard's plan was to wait until the remote sensor alerted him to Storm's presence, then detonate the charges to kill him. “I disabled the remote charges, and put my own there, then tripped the sensor on purpose because I just knew he'd come running once he heard the alarm go off. So I'm just waiting for him inside a vent watching him and waiting for him to come in,” he continued, slightly giddy.
“It worked perfectly.”
Intruder doesn't yet have a release date, but it's currently being tested by a small number of players. That test should be extended to more fans soon; we'll let you know when you can get your hands on the game.