Scout’s Journey has developed into something that doesn’t easily fit into any of the genres / marketing labels common in the game world. Exploration is encouraged, combat is discouraged but still possible, platforming and extended movement is a thing. But if combat is moved towards the periphery, and exploration towards the center, that means there is a lot of walking around / looting / discovering things and not so much action. So there’s a kind of vacuum in the action department. As we saw with Gone Home, many core gamers don’t take so well to that – a lot of people don’t consider exploration a gameplay element, to the point where many claimed Gone Home wasn’t a game at all.
Platforming might fill a little of that gap, but not all of it since platforming can’t create the same sense of conflict as combat can. Platforming is more of a movement mechanic.
Stealth to the rescue. A stealth mechanic allows the player to make contact with hostile NPCs without having to engage them. The conflict is there, the danger is there, but the challenge is not to blast everything that moves, instead to remain unseen while holding contact with the enemy and eavesdropping on their conversations, intercepting their radio calls, and mapping out their patrol routes / cycles in order to go about your business (exploration, looting, discovering information, and various interactions) undetected and even gain additional intelligence. This obviously also creates various ambush opportunities, should the player choose to risk combat.
After pondering this for a while, creating a kind of gameplay model and checking out in how far it works or doesn’t work, I’m convinced this is a pretty good idea. Specifically, my gameplay model makes use of verticality and real 3D spaces to avoid and shadow enemy patrols. This 3D is where platforming and extended movement comes in. It means that those parts of existing levels that have patrols will need to be turned into fully 3D spaces. A side effect is increasing game time and providing more room for exploration. The vertical might also provide extra flanking or escape routes. Very good.
Another benefit is that encouraging the player to avoid combat and rewarding that avoidance (by making it fun to play cat and mouse with enemies) reduces the amount of fighting and thereby the amount of noise in the game. This should in turn create an opportunity for environmental storytelling to stand out more.
What is SPEC?
Stealth, Platforming, Exploration, Combat. Since the game world loves acronyms (FPS, RPG, MMO, RTS) I’ll posit SPEC as the core gameplay model of Scout’s Journey. So now we know what it is. It’s a SPEC.