A stealth puzzle game that lets you rewire its levels to trick people.

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Tom Francis

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John Roberts

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Fabian van Dommelen

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Ryan Ike

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Francisco Cerda


By Tom Francis. Uses Adaptive Images by Matt Wilcox.

Gunpoint: The Mechanic

The game I’m making is about infiltration, but I’ve held off mentioning the way you do it until it’s actually in the game. It is now, and on Saturday night I sent it to around one hundred testers who kindly agreed to try it out. This was a little nerve wracking.

Before I go any further, if you signed up to test the latest version but haven’t played it yet, I’d really like you to play it before you read this. The reason I haven’t mentioned it before is that I wanted the first people to play it to do so fresh, to see if it makes sense without any external explanation.

Gunpoint Crosslink simple

It’s a tool called the Crosslink, which lets you rewire any device in the level to any other. So if there’s an electronically locked security door you want to open, you can use the Crosslink to wire a light switch to it, then press the switch to open the door.

But you don’t have to be the one who presses the switch: guards will use security hand scanners to open those doors, and hit light switches if they find themselves in the dark. So you can rewire those things to screw with them: a guard tries to turn the lights back on and finds it slams a door shut and traps him in the room. Trying to open it unlocks another door halfway across the level, letting the player into the building.

Gunpoint Lower Floor

The idea is to give the player a lot of freedom to tinker with their environment and fuck with people. I wanted a system that gives you enough power that you can be creative, think of approaches that I hadn’t considered, and come up with your own way of playing. And I wanted a game where killing a guy is not the most interesting thing you can do to him.

Games that funnel you down a single path seem to be made from a perspective of, “What if the player is stupid? How can we make sure he can complete this?” I wanted to start from the question, “What if the player is smarter than me? How can I make something even he’ll enjoy?” I still want the barrier to entry to be low, but I don’t want it to double as a ceiling on the intricacy of what you can do.

Skyscraper Climb

The results are making me very happy. I built a crude demo record/playback function into this prototype, so testers can send me a replay of their first attempt at the game, and I can watch how they dealt with each level. My plan was to see where the stumbling blocks were, what players tried to do but couldn’t, or didn’t try but could have. But it also shows the awesome solutions they came up with.

In the last one I watched, the player seems to rewire a building all wrong. I’m scratching my head when he hits a lightswitch, which isn’t connected to anything more interesting than a light. But a guard on that floor is by another switch, which he hits.

Instead of turning the light back on, it turns off the light on the top floor, causing the guard up there to open several security doors on the way to turn it back on. When he finally presses it, instead of the light coming back on, the door slams and locks behind him. The player just shuffles up the stairs and hacks the terminal he was trying to get to, while every guard on the level is trapped in a different darkened room.

Gunpoint Rewire

That’s not the quickest or easiest way to do that level, nor one I’d ever tried, but it’s awesome to see people come up with their own plans. Early on, I’m happy for them to do that in a sort of sandbox context: it’s not necessary but it’s fun. Later on, I want to complicate the mechanic slightly so that this kind of ingenuity is actually necessary – putting devices on incompatible circuits so you have to trick the AI into bridging the gap for you.

Crosslink Double

Before I started thinking about this stuff, Irrational Games’ Steve Gaynor posted a great analysis of what leads to emergent game experiences. His conclusion is that meaningful state change is at the heart of it.

I totally agree, but I also wanted to come up with a more comprehensive list of the elements that make a game like Deus Ex so endlessly entertaining to me. Whether you want to call it emergence or something else, I decided on the components a game needs to have that kind of excitement:

1. State change. I must be able to change the state of important elements of the game between more interesting conditions than ‘alive’ and ‘dead’.

2. Connectedness. Elements should be able to affect each other, not just me.

3. True obstacles. The most direct and simple path cannot be viable, at least not for the ideal outcome.

4. Significance. Some elements must be obviously powerful, valuable, or consequential.

I’m satisfied I’ve covered 1 and 2 in Gunpoint now. 3 is sort of in there, in that you can’t open most stuff directly, but the simplest Crosslinks are usually viable solutions right now. That will change when I make incompatible circuits. 4 is less nailed down – it might come in the form of your objectives, VIPs and the like, it might be to do with the cops or rival agents showing up, or it might just be about guns and who has them.

The nice thing about the Crosslink mechanic is that it adds a lot of value to whatever else I put in, so it’s easier to justify spending some time on a new device. I’m always open to ideas for those – I’m planning some kind of metal detector or security camera, something triggered merely by presence, and an alarm that’ll summon guards to a particular floor when triggered. Any others?


VelvetFistIronGlove: Have you seen Randy Smith and Harvey Smith’s GDC presentation on designing emergent systems (PPT)? Despite the talk not being there, the slides are easy enough to follow (make sure you check out the slide notes too). Among other things, it suggests an approach to analysing your game systems to aid in designing emergence.

If guards patrolled, that could open up a whole lot more interactions. A patrolling guard would turn on lights on each floor he encounters. He'd try to open and close doors without the player prompting. What if he encountered a door that wouldn't open or a light that wouldn't turn on? Would he be able to fix it? Summon another guard to check it out?

Tweets that mention Gunpoint: The Mechanic, by Tom Francis — [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tom Francis, Logan Decker. Logan Decker said: The protagonist looks like a hamster in a trench coat. I'm in. RT @Pentadact What my game is actually about: [...]

ckpk: lethal traps i guess? a way of timing circuits would be cool.

a way of moving rooms around like a sliding puzzle could open up possibilities, but i guess it would require a lot of planning and work and might not fit in with the tone of the game. I guess it would turn it more into a puzzle game than a smooth hybrid of puzzle and action, but it could add another element to the gameplay.

Damien Neil: Coffee makers? Vending machines?

I like the idea of a guard making himself a cup of coffee being the trigger for the entire security system collapsing.

Hammertime90210: How about devices that raise and lower the heights of things.

So - obviously - a button that raises and lowers a lift. But presumably you could rewire it so that instead of raising and lowering that lift, it now raises and lowers some... comparable thing.

Like, a bellboy is flicking a switch to raise and lower a dumb waiter in an adjacent room, but you rewire it so that it now raises and lowers the water level in the pool (or, erm, something). Said bellboy is not aware that he is doing this, and therefore keeps doing it.

Hammertime90210: Sorry - one more.

Re-routing phone calls?

I don't know how you'd communicate this exactly, but if we know that one particular character is always picking up the phone and yelling 'COME UP HERE AND SEE ME!' down it, you could presumably rewire the phone so that different people are receiving the phone call, or you could indeed just connect it to nothing and break the phone entirely.

Jaz: Rewire a lightswitch so that it operates a disco ball, enabling your superpowered dance moves.

ckpk: being able to rewire the security system so when an access card for a particular door is used, it actually opens a different door.

e.g. getting into a certain area behind a blue door requires gaining access to the security system, rewiring it so that red access cards open blue doors, then baiting a guard with a red card into trying to go through a red door. complications could be brought about by the fact that when rewired, all coloured doors would open, potentially putting you at risk from patrolling guards/dangers that were previsouly closed off.

Tom Lawrence: I always loved the bit in Deus Ex where you could hack into one terminal and release poison gas on an entire barracks full of guards. So poison gas dispensers would be great! Also automated gun turrets, that was great in Deux Ex too.

Tom Lawrence: Also key: different species of guards. None of them need to me smart; but they can all me interesting varieties of dumb.

So in addition to your current standard guard, you can have patrolling guards, guards that sleep until they respond rapidly to alarms, guards that notice if equipment isn't working right and move out to fix it, guards with night vision goggles that aren't hampered by turning out the lights &c.

Introduce each type slowly and then build up to wonderfully complex scenarios. And then have a level editor! Also solve world hunger with next patch k pls thx

Tom Lawrence: More complex state changers might be the building's heating and cooling systems.

Turning up the heating might cause guards to run to the water coolers! Or to remove clothing!

...Which you could then steal and wear to impersonate a guard! So long as you can master a match-3 mini-game which simulates your imitation of their mannerisms, and use a hardcoded natural language interpreter feature to swap stories about how great the Simpsons was last night to earn their trust!

Jonn: At the risk of overusing a meme; this is a good idea and you should feel good.

Entropy: Was it only the first game recorded? Because my first game involved me shuffling about a bit and accidentally pressing Esc, because I'm an idiot.

MartinJ: I hope the guards panic when you lock them in the room. You probably thought of this, but doing so would be immensely more rewarding when they actually react to being locked in or in the dark. Running around crazily or fainting would be enough, they just have to convey the emotion.

Lack_26: If a guard realises they're trapped (perhaps a patrolling guard runs into two door within a certain space), they could get panicked, start hammering on the door and crying. Wouldn't serve much purpose but it would be funny.

LeSwordfish: Except possibly summoning more guards?

Lack 26: @LeSwordfish, now that would be funny. Especially if they tried to use the hand-print switch and locked themselves in, so more come running to their cries. I can just imagine an ever increasing amount of guards running around in different rooms.

CdrJameson: If you could get the guards to think that other guards are the intruder...

Pod: Nohing to do with the game:

You should add a reddit button next to the facebook one. I've seen you posting on there! YOU CAN'T HIDE.

Coded One: @CdrJameson,

Oh God... As soon as I read that, I got goosebumps.

That's definitely the best I've read so far.

TooNu: Is the wee man infiltrating for a reason or just because he can?

Also, can he jump through a window from a building and then free fall through the window of the building opposite, and then start shooting up the place?

If so, I am going to buy this. If not, I am going to buy this but what a shame.

Tom Francis: He will be able to once breakable glass is in. Jumping through windows is a basic human right as far as I'm concerned.

Jaz: Don't forget windows you can open, too. They're this whole new thing.

Jason L: A passing fad, I assure you.

Chieron: Why, who would in their right minds would OPEN a window? They're there for jumping through!

Michale Berhow: How about more advanced guards able to restore circuits to their natural state?

JD: in addition to gloves capable of allowing you to climb walls etc, how about shoes/boots, enabling upside down walking above guards, possibly wielding a gun to redecorate their heads...

Electronic Samurai: Michale Berhow: Perhaps the guards can use the phones to call technical support? They'd be more difficult to trap, because they would be able to restore circuits after a short period of working on them.

Jimothy: This reminds me of Sid Meier's Covert Action. It had a little wiretapping minigame where you rearranged little fuse things to redirect an electric current. Route the current to the right circuit to install the tap, make a blunder and the circuit would channel the current into an alarm and alert the enemies.

Jason L: Apropos of a bizarre mental alloy of Gunpoint-related thoughts about FSM rewiring gameplay, relearning about games I'd forgotten I loved, and reading GTK HOWTOs with their OO callback structure: Everybody knows about Mindrover, right? Oh, good. Apparently in the last patch Cognitoy added a finite state machine as one of the components you could stick on your finite state machine; I get the impression they were the kind of people for whom that's a 'why not' scenario. ...rover.html ...=mindrover

Laras: please help im canadin im wordning i know? that they have a canadin legal catagory but those gun suck but eny way i was wordning wat would happen if i got a airsoft gun thats just like a ak47 and shiped it to canada ( becuase i have the opion to do that would it ship her or just not come and refund my mony