Screencheat gameplay

Cool Invisibility in Multiplayer Games

A lot of the best, most creative game design nowadays is in multiplayer games.  Especially ones from the indie side of the street.  Multiplayer games are hard for me to talk about though, because the simpler they are, the better.  A good presentation, good maps, and good mechanics are all you need, and there isn’t always a lot to say.

AAA games have mostly left couch co-op behind, minus companies like Nintendo that have flagship franchises based on multiplayer.  Indie games have thankfully picked up the slack and then some.  What’s great is that lots of different games will take a certain theme or mechanic and use it in a bunch of fun ways.

I have a few games I wanna talk about.  Individually I don’t think I could have much to say, but together they have a lot to say.  They’re all amazing examples of using invisibility in games.

Hidden in Plain Sight came out a while ago, in 2011.  It’s not about “invisibility” per se, but the name of the game is blending in.  Players are pitted against one another and forced to kill each other in a room full of NPCs.  But they have to do so without knowing for sure where each other are.  That means balancing walking around like the NPCs while trying to figure out which ones are other human players.

The game is exceedingly simple, and looks like an obscure Dreamcast game, but it built up a pretty big cult following online.  It’s a great example of a game that builds tension in a room full of players.  The beauty of the game is in the challenge of splitting your attention between seeing others while remaining unseen.

I first played the game that inspired this post a week ago with some friends.  It’s Invisigun Heroes by Sombr Studios, a game inspired by Bomberman and TowerFall with a twist.  The players can move left, right, up, down, they can shoot projectiles, and use a special character-specific item.

The catch is, all the players are invisible.

They’re not invisible 100% of the time — using certain items (like Revealers) can uncover other players, and firing a shot reveals the player for a second.  Bumping into objects also causes them to flash for a split second, giving a vague idea of where the player is.  This is supremely interesting, because it demands absolute focus to try to outwit another player.  Every directional tap moves the character one grid-space of each map.  It’s possible to count your steps and still be aware of your lines of fire without giving away your position.  When it comes down to a one-on-one duel and no one is firing, the suspense builds to a head until each one makes a move.  To be honest, playing this game gets me more on-edge than playing any cover-based FPS in the world.

Invisigun Heroes would already be fun without invisibility.  It has great map design, cool powerups, and so on.  But using invisibility in the top-down shooter framework makes the perfect party game.  A long waiting game followed by a chaotic scrap where anyone can win makes every round exciting.

Invisigun isn’t even the first foray into the invisible shooter.  In 2014,  Samurai Punk published a game called Screencheat.  The concept came about at the Global Game Jam, where it was very well-received.  During the GoldenEye 007 days of the late 90s, one of the biggest sins was cheating by looking at another player’s screen during multiplayer.  Screenlooking.

(GET IT.  HE SAID THE THING.)

So Screencheat cranks it up a notch by making it impossible to see other players on your own screen.  Apart from stray particle effects, the only way to see another character is by looking at the arena from their point of view.  In a competition with three other people, this is absolute chaos.  The maps are also brilliantly littered with color-coding to make it easier to work out where everyone is.

Like I said, a lot of these games would be fun and quirky even without emphasizing stealth, but the fact that they do makes them much more compelling.  I feel like this is the miracle of indie development in the modern age — developers keep coming up with incredible ideas in the strangest places.