Helldivers 2 doesn’t really have “stealth gameplay” – “it’s just that everything just has to make sense”


Arrowhead discuss Arma inspirations and real-life experience of conscription

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Image credit: Arrowhead Studios

I’ve written a bit about playing Helldivers 2 as a solo diver, noting that Arrowhead’s frenetic shooter holds up surprisingly well when you rudely insist on treating it like an open world stealth sim, a la Metal Gear Solid V. The developers have weighed in on this front, commenting that strictly speaking, Helldivers 2 doesn’t support stealth at all. It’s just designed in an “agnostic”, systems-first way and this in itself makes stealth a possibility. It’s also a quiet attempt to capture something of the intricacy of a full-blown military simulator, while still being a very “arcadey” game at heart, which owes a little to Arrowhead’s own collective time in the military.

All that’s from OperatorDrewski’s recent let’s play interview with Arrowhead CEO Johan Pilestedt and head of product testing Patrik Lasota. Here’s the relevant chunk about stealth (the chat is unattributed, but I think this is Pilestedt talking):

It’s not really that we have stealth gameplay, it’s just that everything just has to make sense. All of the enemies they have hearing, sight, they also have like an approximation of smell within a close radius. It’s just like if you’re in proximity to some of the units that are very sensorily aware, like the Stalker, they will detect you no matter if they can see you.

Yes, that’s right, the game simulates smelling, so be sure to do your laundry regularly, Super Terrans, lest your noxious underpants lure the arachnid menace to Lady Libertea’s door. If I were feeling ungenerous I might say that “smell” here is just a fancy way of saying “some enemies magically notice you at close range”, but even if that’s the case, it’s perhaps a system they can expand. For instance, they could give Stalkers the ability to follow scent trails, and by extension, perhaps they could introduce a Stratagem that drops stink bombs to mislead patrols. As General Brasch might put it, the stench of deception is also the aroma of victory!

There’s some follow-up chat on how much fun Arrowhead are having watching players experiment with the moving parts.

It’s so nice to see the community figuring stuff out in a game that is systemic like this, because they’re going to find stuff we have no idea exists, basically. It’s funny when you take that kind of approach to game design of being more agnostic to the outcome, and focus on designing systems that are robust enough to handle a lot of different varieties.

Helldivers 2’s “agnostic” design owes a lot to Arrowhead’s appreciation for military simulations like Arma, you might not be surprised to hear. While the game’s flavour text (when unlocking new guns and stratagems, for example) makes fun of military jargon and recruitment poster rhetoric, its representation of gunplay takes things rather more seriously, with finer details such as choice of weapon fire rates, ricochet physics and actual loss of ammo when you throw away a clip before it’s empty.

Another excerpt:

“We’re so surprised and happy by the reception of the game. Especially the combination of some of the milsim features that we bring to somewhat of an arcadey game. It was one of the thoughts we had when we started making the game – these features are fun, and create a lot of different dynamics in the game, and it’s something that more people deserve to experience, rather than those who just install 4000 mods for Arma and go at it.”

Mind you, Helldivers 2’s military simulation aspects also reflect personal experience of gadding about with military hardware. Arrowhead’s home country, Sweden, ran full conscription for men throughout the 20th century and currently operates a program of partial, gender-neutral conscription. One last interview excerpt:

In Sweden conscription is mandatory still, or used to be, because we’re such a small country and we need to have a defense force. It used to be like that – everybody at least did, I think it’s 7 months of military service, and then beyond that you have options like the National Guard and so forth.”

A little frustratingly, the speaker at this point is interrupted by a Charger. Perils of a talkthrough interview! Going beyond questions of ballistics, I’d love to hear/read more about how exactly Arrowhead’s military vets were recruited or how they enlisted, memories of day-to-day of life in the forces, and how all that shapes Helldivers 2’s Verhoevenian fiction of a fascist forever-war.

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