Currently scheduled for release in early 2005, Stolen is a stealth-based action game in which you'll assume the role of a professional thief named Anya Romanov. Details of the game's storyline are a closely guarded secret at this point, but producer Graeme Puttock is more than happy to talk about his own Stolen story (as well as a few new gameplay details) in this, our first Stolen designer diary.
By Graeme Puttock
The project is close approaching its beta milestone. This means that, essentially, the game is close to completion. So we're polishing features, fixing bugs, and implementing final assets for speech, sound, cutscenes, and more. It's been a long road since I started on it more than a year ago. Prior to that, another producer held the reins, and I was forced to kill him in some bizarre Star Trek-like battle to the death.
The producer's role is wide and varied. I report to the directors (Luckily, one of them sits opposite me, so that makes life a little easier, because I don't have to get up.), maintain and update the project schedule and milestone definitions, produce all manner of project documentation, liaise with our publishers on a daily basis, answer countless questions from members of the development team and marketing people, arrange and organize outsourced work (from special effects, to scripts, to voice recording, to pizza delivery for those late nights), make tea (not very often), conduct presentations for the press and visiting publishers alike (both here and abroad), write about 30 gazillion e-mails a day (That's a real number. I know, because our technical director told me so.), and brave the wrath of our operations manager when she finds out I've lost all my credit card receipts for the previous month.
In the face of all this, the producer must also, in conjunction with the project director, hold the project vision, which, far from being the somewhat enjoyable peyote-induced experience you may imagine, is, in fact, the very backbone of the game. It's that which makes the game a unique and enjoyable experience. Added to this, the producer must ensure that the project is completed on time and on budget. What's more, the producer must ensure that the game is good.
This is not always easy.
The producer's natural enemy in the wild is the publisher. It is the publisher's job to ask for all sorts of wild and wacky additions to the game, including, but not limited to, the moon on a stick (or better yet, a double-ended "moonstick"). It is the producer's sworn task to put all manner of obstacles in the way until either death or the end of the project comes. In realistic terms, this means I am the go-between for the publisher and the development team. I act as a buffer between the two to allow our team to continue working without the constant interruptions that infest my every waking hour.
Stolen is a game of two main elements: action and stealth. It was always our intention to bond these two elements closely together, taking inspiration from Hollywood-style heist movies and the increasing slew of stealth titles slowly flooding the market, to produce something that amalgamated the best elements of these things. We wanted the player to experience what it's like to be a high-tech, stylish thief in the manner of Catherine Zeta-Jones in Entrapment, with perhaps a little less of the Sean Connery leering (which may sit uncomfortably with some).
Visually, Stolen has always stood out from the crowd. The main challenge for us has been to inject the game with enough playability and innovation to make it a great experience for seasoned gamers and beginners alike.
Anya's athletic abilities are a great focal point for the design of the levels. Navigation is as equally important as stealth in this title, and discovering to how best use the environments to gain an advantage during gameplay is an area that we strongly encourage the player to concentrate on from the outset. The same athletic abilities that allow Anya to navigate the levels also benefit her when trying to outwit or outmaneuver the artificial intelligence systems in the game. Using height as an advantage to scope out the situation, in addition to using Anya's natural turn of speed, is invariably a better option than heading straight into a fray.
Another unique and interesting slant to Stolen is that at each step of the way, we force the player to realize the consequences of his or her actions. Guards cannot be permanently killed or otherwise disposed of (although Anya can knock them unconscious and drag them out of the immediate area), and they will eventually awaken...to alert the rest of the guards on a level. Guards can follow Anya through doors and into adjacent zones, making every move the player makes important, especially when trying to pinch one of the many desirable and infinitely stealable objects that make up the player's objectives.
Anya's high-tech gadgets and thief tools form another aspect of the game that provides the player with the opportunity to become better at his or her "job." Gadget games that correlate to real-world activities actually open up as you progress through Stolen.
The storyline is twisted and convoluted, but it's not entirely our fault. However, Jaid, the project director, will tell you more about that later.