The Alert Guard

February 9, 2012

So, I was just reading this article on how the perception of game audio quality (with regards to dialogue)  is being influenced by how used people are to the way the dialogue has been written as necessary to suit film as a form of media. Whilst I was reading this, the following paragraph gave me pause:

You’ve all been here: you are sneaking past 
a guard in a stealth game. You accidentally drop down off of a crate and make too much noise on your landing. The guard leaves his patrol and looks toward the crates in the shadows and
 barks: “Is someone hiding over there?”

The idea that someone has to say something, has to give audio feedback with the guards voice seemed like an assumption, a big assumption.

How else could we approach this problem? The player drops down off a crate (Does it really have to be a crate? Also, do we need a ‘time to crate‘ metric for game articles now?) and makes too much noise, how can we feedback to the player that the guard knows something is up?

1. The guards body language changes. First he/she was standing somewhat relaxed, now, the guard has unclipped the holster for the gun and is reaching for a torch to search dark areas (NB, IF there are no darkened areas nearby THEN the guard doesn’t grab the torch). – Visual feedback.

2. The guard starts moving towards the position of the unexpected sound. – Visual Feedback.

3. Other nearby guards see the first guards reaction, one of them (randomise it?) might ask “what’s up?” or one of several varieties on this. The first guard may then ask 1+ to come with him and the others to hold position whilst he/she checks out the noise. – This is a mix of visual and audio feedback, but it’s one that makes more sense in terms of how the guards interact with each-other and the player character.

Also, whilst we’re talking about guards that are more human in behaviour, if the player does a good enough job of hiding then any nearby fellow guards really ought to tease the original guard for jumping at shadows. These guys have to stand around all day with little to distract themselves so any opportunity for banter would certainly be seized upon.

There’s just one problem with the above, if the guard is alone, how can we feedback to the player without these odd rhetorical statements?

1. Perhaps the guard has a modern piece of technology called a walky-talky and actually says into it “This is (name) I’m just checking something out…”

Alternatively, we could give other audio stimuli to the player that has nothing to do with the guard speaking.

2. We dial up the volume/intensity of the guards footsteps as he gets closer to the player characters position.

3. We add in audio so that the player character can hear him/her self breathing as the fear and adrenalin kick in.

4. We can use that old favourite, hearing the player characters heart beat, changing the pace of the beating heart depending on the proximity/discovery-chance of the guard. Though, I think this one might be brute force and should only be used for the most dangerous of searching opponents like a tank, mech, or really ugly lookin’ monster.

5. Also, what about the absence of sound. If a guard is patrolling and footsteps are already accentuated, we’ll know the guard has paused his patrol route by the mere absence of his footsteps tromping along that patrol route.

So, there we have it, options that can eliminate the need for a guard to say “Who’s there?” which many people can’t help but feel is just wrong somehow, assuming they’re paying attention at the time.

Additional comments:

I dislike the way guards in games often don’t have decent equipment to communicate with other guards. We could have a base where the alert level actually matters. The exterior of a base is often patrolled regularly, but the interior guards are fully patrolling only if they’ve been put on alert because the player alerted the exterior guards. It means the player can be rewarded for being sneaky outside.

The guards ability to hear the player should be influenced by other conflicting sound sources. You won’t hear a player dropping off a crate if it happens in a noisy factory.

If the guard spots the player character, his/her reaction should be appropriate to the state of the player character. If no weapons are visible (concealed, no sniper rifle hanging off a shoulder or what have you), then the guard should tell you to come out hands up (animation/control ‘hmm’ there), if you happen to have that sniper rifle out or hanging off your shoulder the reaction (especially in high security facilities) would be more along the lines of the guard shouting “armed intruder!” – Something that is intended to get across to fellow guards as quickly as possible that they’re all in danger.

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