Mike Bithell Talks About Volume, Why He Likes Stealth

‘It’s about trying to reduce the choice outside of stealth and increase the choice within stealth.’


At this year’s Eurogamer Expo we had a short chat with Thomas Was Alone’s Mike Bithell about his upcoming stealth game Volume and his opinions on the stealth genre.

Gameranx – I do want to talk about Volume, but immediately, how have the last couple years been? It’s a meteoric rise, actually, meteors don’t rise, they crash and burn.

Mike Bithell – I’ve never understood that phrase, yeah.

GR – How about… A Rocket Ship? Taking off?

MB – Nice. It’s been awesome, I was just a dude working in a games company, I made a hobby game and it went ridiculously well. I’m still surprised by that and I don’t fully understand the process. It basically did well enough that I now get to spend years and years and years making whatever I want and the first thing on the list was Volume.

It’s freedom, it’s absolute complete freedom. Freedom costs money, which is a shame, but I’ve been really lucky and I’m now taking advantage of that by using the opportunity to make whatever I want.

GR – Right out of the gate with this freedom you decide: “I like Metal Gear and Lego a lot, so, let’s make a combination”.

MB – I think I decided to make this when I was about 13-14. I was obsessed with Metal Gear Solid as a kid. And like every kid I played the game and immediately was like “Oh it’d be so cool if you could do this or you could do that” or “that thing was rubbish, that should be different, it should work like this.”

That bounced around my head for the intervening 13-14 years, always taking away that I really wanted to make a stealth game. I never got to make one, I always tried to find opportunities because I worked on quite a few games and I was always the guy going “hey we should do a stealth level” and everyone else was like “no”.

GR – Stealth levels get a bad rap for not really working.

MB – No they never work because there’s always people like me who really wish they were making a stealth game trying to squeeze some stealth into a game which makes no sense.

GR – Do you feel like that’s an engine problem? It just not being accounted for?

MB – It’s just not given the time. If your game is about shooting, you spend a lot of time making sure the guns feel good. If your game is about shooting and you want a stealth bit, you’re still spending most of you time trying to make the guns feel good, but you’ve also got to do that stealth bit you’ve been putting off for ages.

GR – What is it about stealth that interests you?

Okay, the whole thing with stealth games is they aren’t action games, they’re puzzle games that are dressed up with men running around with guns to make them feel like action games. 

Volume is Pac-Man, in the same way that Metal Gear was Pac-Man. You play with it and you make it feel like action but it’s a puzzle game.

The other thing is that it’s an inversion of puzzle games. In Thomas there was always one solution really, in a few places you could come up with slightly different ways, but generally it was one solution. Stealth games, because of the complexity of AI actions it can go in a million different directions, because of that you get a puzzle game that becomes emergent and you can find different solutions.

When you play a tactical shooter, the vast majority of them you have to make split second decisions and very quickly it becomes a corridor shooter. Whereas with stealth games because you’re being a bit more deliberate in your timing you’re actually constantly working out a plan, trying a plan, seeing if that works, changing it.