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Getting That Sweetroll: Stealth Indicators in Games

6 Feb 2018

In active stealth games, players can voluntarily choose to hide from enemies (Bycer, 2014). As noted by Bycer, "stealth design has to be made 100% clear to the player" (2017), and the use of UI indicators can be an efficient way to communicate stealth levels to players. This blog will look at two applications of this through the lens of Fagerholt and Lorentzon's research on UI (2009).


When players enters stealth mode in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Bethesda Game Studios, 2011), a  golden eye is displayed in the middle of the screen (figure 1); it gradually opens as the enemy sees the player, or closes when the player is hidden. According to Fagerholt and Lorentzon (2009), this is a non-diegetic element of UI: the eye does not exist inside the fictional game world, and it is not visualised as part of the 3D game space either. While functional and clear, the non-diegetic choice makes the player a passive participant in stealth monitoring, as the indicator is always on-screen and in plain view.


However, Dishonored 2 (Arkane Studios, 2016)  places the stealth meter directly on the enemy in-game (figure 2). Fagerholt and Lorentzon call this a spacial or geometric representation, as it does not exist in the fictional game world but is still visualised within it. This in-game location forces the player to pay attention to the game world to monitor enemies' awareness. Furthermore,  the meter uses colour (red) and flashing animation to indicate stealth is about the fail, making this a signifier, an "element carrying information about entities external to the signifier itself" (Fagerholt and Lorentzon, 2009). This adds another level of engagement with the player as they are once again required to pay close attention to the stealth indicator to gage their stealth level.


While non-diegetic stealth UI indicators convey information efficiently, spacial representation can be an efficient way to also involve the player further in the stealth mechanics.


Arkane Studios (2016) Dishonored 2. Bethesda Softworks.


Bethesda Game Studios (2011) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Bethesda Softworks.


Bycer, J. (2014) Reactive vs. Active Stealth in Game Design. Available at: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoshBycer/20141119/230478/Reactive_vs_Active_Stealth_in_Game_Design.php (Accessed 14 February 2017)


Bycer, J. (2017) The 4 Required Elements of Stealth Game Design. Available at: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/JoshBycer/20170316/293799/The_4_Required_Elements_of_Stealth_Game_Design.php (Accessed 14 February 2017)


Fagerholt, E. and Lorentzon, M. (2009) User Interfaces for Increased Player Immersion in FPS Games. Master of Science Thesis. Chalmers University of Technology. Available at: publications.lib.chalmers.se/records/fulltext/111921.pdf (Accessed 14 February 2018)





The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (no date). Available at: https://imgur.com/gallery/rx7Dnec (Accessed 14 February 2018)


Dishonored 2 (2016). Rock, Paper, Shotgun. Available at: https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2016/11/14/dishonored-2-review-pc/ (Accessed 14 February 2018)


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2018). Game Pressure. Available at: https://guides.gamepressure.com/theelderscrollsvskyrim/guide.asp?ID=14060 (Accessed 14 February 2018)

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