Although we first learned of Stolen's existence in July 2003, the first time we got to see the game in action was at the GameStars Live event in London just a couple of months ago. We left that particular meeting with the UK-based developer Blue 52 feeling pretty impressed with what we'd been shown, so we recently contacted project director Jaid Mindang to see if he was willing to divulge any further information on the game.
GameSpot: Can you tell us about the game's lead character? Who is she, and where did she come from?
Jaid Mindang: Anya Romanov is a professional thief. She's the best in Forge City. She's audacious and headstrong, and [she] likes to cherry-pick her jobs according to [the] prestige [involved]. She likes to go for the most challenging, headline-grabbing marks. In the background we've created for her, she originally came from Russian parents, but it goes with the territory of her career that she has to remain necessarily enigmatic.
GS: What kinds of abilities does Anya have that distinguish her from other stealth action heroes?
JM: Anya is a very skilled athlete and acrobat, which allows her to traverse environments in many unexpected ways, [so she can] strike where the security of a building or location is weakest. With the help of her partner Louie, who is radio-linked and builds her gadgets, she can undertake the most sophisticated of raids. One of the game's features is that Anya does not kill her enemies. She only renders them unconscious.
You will be able to confront and fight guards, but since they can only ever be knocked out, they will always, ultimately, regain consciousness. As a result, you may be able to get out of tricky situations with the heavy-handed approach, but you'll never be able to succeed the mission unless you choose to do it quietly. In order to reciprocate that, we've expanded upon the range of player skills and abilities within the spectrum of subterfuge to give Anya much more [skills and abilities] than normally afforded to player characters in the stealth action genre.
GS: And what can you tell us about her gadgets? She has plenty of those, right?
JM: Of course. Her trade requires that her toolkit be replete. Louie not only acts as her fence and agent, but [also] acts, [because he's a former serviceman], as a communications and security specialist. He designs and builds Anya's high-tech gadgetry, some of which would impress 007. Anya's work helps fund this research. The central interface for all her gadgets is her ArmPad, which pipes information directly to her heads-up display and uses ultrasound to provide internal schematics of mechanical locks, [in addition to] identifying weaknesses and stress points in metal plating. [Her ArmPad also] determines the position of tumblers in combination locks. It can even interface directly with computers. She also carries a silenced projectile weapon that carries nullifier rounds for [either] stunning enemies at range or short-circuiting unprotected electrical apparatuses. She has sonic emitters for use as decoys and can deploy trackers to locate enemies and security systems all over the map, [which she can then] display on her GPS map. There's more, besides.
GS: What kinds of locations will Anya be visiting as players progress through the game? We've heard there are only four?
JM: There are only four distinctly different locations, but these are much bigger than the themed levels in, say, a platform game. If you consider Metal Gear Solid, for example, the whole game took place in and around a single military installation, from the docks to the helipad to the research labs, etc. Similarly, in Stolen, although the first location is a museum, you have a network of corridors, the rooftops, the basement and generator rooms, the exhibit halls, etc. Within each location there are numerous areas and loads of restart points. They all stream seamlessly from one to the next, so the player isn't bothered by loading points while the game is in play. It would be disingenuous to describe Stolen as a game of only four levels.
GS: What kind of objectives will Anya typically be looking to achieve?
JM: Well, initially, she is just playing along with the theft of specific items for which she has been hired. As the plot progresses, she realizes that it may not necessarily be in her best interest to do her client's bidding. So she embarks upon a bit of industrial espionage and gets herself into hot water. Then her objective becomes more one of survival.
The first job, for example, is to plunder a priceless ruby from the crest of an enormous samurai statue in the museum. I don't want to give too much more away. Aside from the primary mission objectives, there will also be lots of opportunity for opportunistic kleptomania, which will add replay value.
GS: How intelligent are the enemies that will be trying to stop Anya?
JM: The enemy artificial intelligence is something we've gone to town on. We've put a great deal more into [enemies] than is normally required for a game in which it is possible to shoot them dead. Anya's means of getting through a group of hostiles has to be altogether more artful and subtle, and we knew from the beginning that we would need to balance this with equally artful and subtle AI.
You can distract or misdirect guards, but they have a short-term memory. So if you do that too much, they will judge the situation and conclude that you're around, even if they haven't actually seen you. They won't just foolishly fall for the same tricks over and over again. Once suspicious, they all carry torches and will start searching in all the dark corners where you might otherwise have been able to hide. Depending on their modus operandi, they may call in a sighting or suspicion, or [they may] just check it out themselves. But once the guard booth is alerted, the general alarm goes out, and then every guard in the level will be on the lookout for you, even before you've entered the room. Guards can also chase you from room to room, leaving their original patrol routes far behind, so you can't simply run in to different rooms and close the doors behind you to elude enemies. Not to mention that you probably won't find many rooms that aren't littered with motion sensors or laser detection grids [that are] possibly even linked to robot sentry guns. That'll slow you down if there's an armed guard running after you. Did I mention the autonomous, hovering security drones?
Weigh all this against the fact that Anya can only knock out guards temporarily and you begin to realize the necessity for stealth. Sure, you can zap a guard with nullifiers, punch him out, and get him in a choke hold for a silent knockout. If you're spotted, you may even be clever enough to do this to him before he can reach for his radio and call for backup, in which case you will have bought yourself a little time. We didn't want the guards to function like a single-group consciousness, so they do have to relay that message to the booth in order to get help, unless there's another [guard] within earshot. However, he's going to wake up eventually, and then all hell may break loose.
GS: Will the three versions of the game that you have in development differ in any way?
JM: Not significantly. The PC and Xbox version will benefit from higher resolution textures and even bump-mapping. The Xbox version will be Xbox Live aware, but that's about it.
GS: Did you ever consider including any multiplayer features in Stolen?
JM: We did, for about five seconds. Unfortunately, a persistent game environment where you try not to set off the alarms or get the enemies agitated [would] never work if you [had] three other players dancing through motion sensors and bumping into guards elsewhere in the same environment. As mentioned, once alerted, the guard booth will relay that alert status to every other guard in the building, and that's an intrinsic part of their threat. We would have to [offer] a very different game to be conducive to multiplayer gaming.
GS: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about the game?
JM: The best features of this game will provide loads of replay value. Although I've already waffled loads about the AI, there will be many ways of tackling the enemies, and you should find that as you start to get the measure of the different enforcement agencies in the game, you'll be able to get bolder and brassier with them. That's really what Anya's character is all about--sass and chutzpah. She can even lift the wallet out of a riot guard's pocket while he's still patrolling around. Question is, will the player have the nerve or a steady enough hand to do it?
GS: Thanks for your time.