When did "crouch" become the standard stealth movement mechanic?

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Aethelred

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I am trying to think of when "crouch" became the usual pose for stealthy movement. In Thief 2 and Deus Ex, both released in 2000, one moved quietly by walking slowly. By Deus Ex: Human Revolution, released 2011, a player crouched to move quietly. (I always thought that this was strange as it is actually harder to be silent while duck-walking.)

Is there any particular popular game that came out in the 2000s that made crouching=stealth?

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Justin258

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#2  Edited By Justin258

I'm not terribly well-versed in the history of stealth games, but wouldn't that be Splinter Cell? I actually tried to play that once and had a hard time doing so because I couldn't get over thinking "man, can this guy just stand up straight, that's gotta hurt his back and knees".

Anyway, it's probably because controllers have fewer buttons than a keyboard and mouse and it's easier just to combine "moving slowly, making less noise, and crouching" into one function, as opposed to having one for crouching and one for moving slower. Of course, we still have sprint buttons, so presumably we could just get rid of that and instead have a toggle that switches between sprinting all over the place like a madman and a regular walking speed. Or switch between stealth and regular walking mode. Or whatever.

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Onemanarmyy

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#3  Edited By Onemanarmyy

I might be totally wrong, but aren't you able to crouch for stealth in Delta Force? Or Hidden and Dangerous? I know you can straight up crawl in that game. I bet if you include 'crouching to fit behind a crate' as stealth mechanic, you will find a ton of old arcade games that have that.

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ltsmash

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Because "tippy toeing" isn't badass?

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ghost_cat

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I would probably put my finger on Thief for the PC, even though the keyboard layout was wack.

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BoOzak

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#8  Edited By BoOzak

Tenchu maybe? But that was more of a crouch roll.

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Ezekiel

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I remember disliking it in Splinter Cell over a decade ago and I still dislike it now. Especially when it slows you down even more than walking. It looks uncool. Crouching should be there for hiding/ducking behind objects and getting into low spaces.

I always thought that this was strange as it is actually harder to be silent while duck-walking.

As with a lot of other design choices, I don't think devs seriously think about this and just follow convention.

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BisonHero

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I think even in Thief 2 and Deus Ex, as much as you could walk to make less noise, I'm pretty sure in both games you could crouch to make even less noise. I specifically remember playing a lot of Deus Ex just crouching everywhere and sniping guys with a scoped pistol.

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Aethelred

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I couldn't remember if Morrowind had two different buttons for crouch and sneak so I looked up the controls. Apparently it goes back at least as far as that.

My memory of Morrowind is that you moved at three speeds: run, walk, and sneak. It's been ten years since I played it, so I might be mistaken.

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FrostyRyan

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@ezekiel said:

I remember disliking it in Splinter Cell over a decade ago and I still dislike it now. Especially when it slows you down even more than walking. It looks uncool.

strongly disagree my friend

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ArtisanBreads

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#13  Edited By ArtisanBreads

Deus Ex is a game with that mechanic like others have said but I would believe Thief was the first game with it in 1998.

A game that came out just before it, Commandos, had crawling to avoid being spotted by enemies but that's a bit different game that takes place from an isometric view. Enemies had a two stage vision cone and if you're prone in the longer range portion you will be unseen. Underrated series of games.

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fisk0

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#14 fisk0  Moderator

I think even in Thief 2 and Deus Ex, as much as you could walk to make less noise, I'm pretty sure in both games you could crouch to make even less noise. I specifically remember playing a lot of Deus Ex just crouching everywhere and sniping guys with a scoped pistol.

Yup, I crouched a lot in Thief 1 as I recall. I think you had to do that in order to get the visibility indicator all the way into "hey, you're invisible" levels, though you certainly could remain hidden standing up and walking slowly in poorly lit areas.

I don't remember how stealth worked in the aforementioned Delta Force games, but I also recall crouching for stealth in Hidden & Dangerous.

I absolutely remember crouch sneaking during the stealth sections of Sin too, but I don't remember if that actually had any real benefit or if it just was the intuitive thing to do.

I did crouch my way through the original System Shock too, but that was a game I didn't really get around to playing through until after the release of Thief, so that may be another case where I just thought crouching would help me stay hidden without it actually doing anything.

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ArtisanBreads

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#15  Edited By ArtisanBreads

I played Delta Force and although those games had some kind of stealth I suppose, for me it became a long range combat game basically always and I never understood the stealth or think it's possible to really stealth through. It was a long time ago when I was young though so perhaps I'm wrong. It was so easy to get blindsided if you got too close to a location with a lot of enemies and you could die very fast.

The game also had a cool scope view that did not break your normal FPS view to show, instead putting it on the screen near the corner, which I think is cool and other games should do. It made long range combat pretty fun and snappy. The maps were also very open so I don't really know how you could stealth reliably through it unless I missed something.

@frostyryan said:
@ezekiel said:

I remember disliking it in Splinter Cell over a decade ago and I still dislike it now. Especially when it slows you down even more than walking. It looks uncool.

strongly disagree my friend

I do too. When Splinter Cell first came out it was amazing animation wise and the analog control was fantastic. Chaos Theory was also incredible in those same ways when that came out. The games have always been good in that way if the series has been up and down for me.

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ll_Exile_ll

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Anyway, it's probably because controllers have fewer buttons than a keyboard and mouse and it's easier just to combine "moving slowly, making less noise, and crouching" into one function, as opposed to having one for crouching and one for moving slower.

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You need to toggle walking speeds on PC because the WASD keys are digital input, either stop or go. On consoles there's the luxury of analog controls, so movement speed can be as binary or fluid as the developers want without having to waste limited buttons on a speed toggle. Analog sticks provide a lot more opportunity for wide gradations in speed rather than simply toggling between walk, jog, or sprint.

Whatever the reason for games using crouching for stealth rather than simply slow movement, it doesn't make sense that limited button availability on a console would be the reason.

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Jonny_Anonymous

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@mambogator said:

I couldn't remember if Morrowind had two different buttons for crouch and sneak so I looked up the controls. Apparently it goes back at least as far as that.

My memory of Morrowind is that you moved at three speeds: run, walk, and sneak. It's been ten years since I played it, so I might be mistaken.

Yes, although here isn't a huge difference in speed between walking and sneaking.

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MooseyMcMan

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Somewhat unrelated, but this discussion is making me realize how funny it is that Metal Gear did not incorporate the ability to crouch and walk at the same time until MGS4 in 2008. Until then, if you tried to move whilst crouching, you went into a crawl.

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Kovie

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The original Thief was more about the surfaces you were walking on and how much you were moving, mostly independent of your stance.

I don't have a good answer for what the catalyst was, but I imagine it serves as convenient shorthand. It makes more sense in a non-dedicated stealth game to have a button there to toggle between modes.

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singular

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First time I experienced that mechanic was in Half-Life. Sneaking past the Tentacle.

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#23  Edited By LeStephan

@ll_exile_ll: A lot of people seem incapable at moving the stick anything but all the way. I meant, it seems crazy to me as well but I've noticed it with plenty of people from all walks of life and none of them are aware of it. Suddenly I realized why all console shooters have their sensitivity at 20% and horrible deadzones on the stick by default.

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musclerider

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@lestephan: The deadzones are because sticks wear out and at some point don't properly center themselves. games with little to no deadzones are infuriating because as soon as I let go of the right stick my view starts drifting. I also find trying to push a stick halfway to be uncomfortable if I'm trying to do it for extended periods of time.

I spent almost all of the original Thief crouching because it's hard to hide behind shit standing straight up.

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LeStephan

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#25  Edited By LeStephan

@musclerider: Oh I didnt know that, still sucks to aim with deadzones though. Its really weird to me to solve that issue by making aiming less immediate by default, needing to buy a new controller when its worn out after years of use doesnt really sound unreasonable to me either..

I think deus ex and thief were also my earliest crouch to stealth games.

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stonyman65

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I can remember that as far back as Rainbow Six. Crouch walking made you a smaller target so it was easier to sneak around without anyone seeing you while they were usually looking for someone standing up, and I believe it lowered the sound of footsteps as well. That carried on to a lot FPS games - half life, counter strike, deus ex, and so on. To my my knowledge it has been around as long as you have been able to crouch in games. I guess somewhere devs just decided to make that an actual stealth mechanic since everyone was already doing it anyway.

Funny thing: Back in the 80's and 90's, "duck walking" was actually taught to military and SWAT teams as tactical movement so you could keep a lower profile and move around without making as much sound. It was taught by many of the tactical schools and training courses around that time. It was essentially crouch walking like what we do in games where you would walk low enough that you were practically squatting while you walked. By the late 90's-early-00's, everyone in the tactical community decided that it didn't work as well as just bending the knees and arching the back in a "ready position" (similar to a fighting or athletic stance) so they stopped teaching the duck walk altogether. You'll still hear it mentioned every now and then when instructors talk about shooting stance and shooting on the move. Come to think of it, that's probably where tactical simmulator games like Rainbow Six and Delta Force got it from.

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Maluvin

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#28  Edited By Maluvin

Edit: I forgot about the original System Shock. Think they did it first but can't remember the specific mechanics.

As far as I can remember Thief was the first game that had you actually crouching from a first person perspective with a key for stealth, however, as a concept in gaming crouching for stealth was always kind of implied in gaming since at least D&D with the thief hide in shadows and move silently class abilities which showed in various RPGs like the old SSI Gold Box game series.

Thief 1's stealth was a combination of visibility and audibility. Surface composition would affect audibility with things like metal surfaces making louder sounds that could be heard at range and surfaces like carpet being muffled that made it easier to move without being heard. Also your rate of movement would increase the range that you would be detected with running being the loudest. Visibility was affected by light sources such as torches and being in shadows would decrease the range you'd be seen.

Crouching would decrease both your visibility and audibility so it was generally the stealthiest thing you could do. Part of the game was knowing when to break crouch to advance forward faster to sneak up on guards or between multiple guard paths.

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HellBrendy

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#29  Edited By HellBrendy

@mooseymcman: Wich in real life is the really sensible thing to do, since crouchwalking is incredibly hard.

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@hellbrendy: I know! Any time I've done it myself, I just wonder how it is that these stealth espionage people can do it for so long. Video games, am I right?

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@ravey said:

@maluvin: Crouching in Thief is a minor benefit to visibility, not audibility, and moving while crouched nullifies the benefit gained by crouching alone.

Hmm I'm not positive about that but then again it's approaching 20 years since I've played it so more than willing to accept I could be wrong. FWIW I remember crouching and moving slow almost all the time to the point where it was instinctual. From a logic standpoint it doesn't make a lot of sense for it to completely nullify it especially given how the game would behave when you'd do the opposite (running upright).

Now I have to load up Thief again and do some testing!

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#33 rorie  Staff

Pretty sure it started with Mith Thorton's bony butt in Alpha Protocol.

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I guess it is probably because of the gameplay risk/reward scenario of moving faster versus being harder to detect.

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lachrymoses

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We need to bring back slinking.

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Justin258

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@justin258 said:

Anyway, it's probably because controllers have fewer buttons than a keyboard and mouse and it's easier just to combine "moving slowly, making less noise, and crouching" into one function, as opposed to having one for crouching and one for moving slower.

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You need to toggle walking speeds on PC because the WASD keys are digital input, either stop or go. On consoles there's the luxury of analog controls, so movement speed can be as binary or fluid as the developers want without having to waste limited buttons on a speed toggle. Analog sticks provide a lot more opportunity for wide gradations in speed rather than simply toggling between walk, jog, or sprint.

Whatever the reason for games using crouching for stealth rather than simply slow movement, it doesn't make sense that limited button availability on a console would be the reason.

Holding the analog stick halfway forward for as much as you have to sneak around in stealth games would be such a pain. I point to that bit in Arkham Asylum where you have to walk carefully on floating boards or Killer Croc will leap out of the water and eat you as proof.

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#38  Edited By kasaioni

@mooseymcman: The games were never designed with crouch walking in mind any ways. MG through to MGS2 were largely designed around avoiding cones of vision, and bypassing the enemy rather than taking them out. And with camo in MGS3, if you're close to an enemy you should be laying down any ways; crouch walking wouldn't add anything to it.

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@rorie: high time (if you haven't already and legal crap doesnt restrict you from doing so) to do a tell all about matthew rorie's alpha protocol! unless it's been oversold all this time and it's really not all that interesting, but i would watch it anyway!

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#41 rorie  Staff

@rorie: high time (if you haven't already and legal crap doesnt restrict you from doing so) to do a tell all about matthew rorie's alpha protocol! unless it's been oversold all this time and it's really not all that interesting, but i would watch it anyway!

I really wouldn't have much to say! I came on pretty late in the project and there aren't too many secrets to share, alas.

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I like this because it sort of asks the related questions, "Does it make any narrative sense", and "Does it work well as a mechanic"?

My immediate thought was in line with some others - surely, the moment you shift camera to third person it starts to look stupid (c.f. Skyrim)? - but actually my most recent memory (Metal Gear V) doesn't chime with the notion that it necessarily has to ruin immersion in any way.

I'm interested in the latter question though. I'd like to keep this chain going, if I may:

@ll_exile_ll said:
@justin258 said:

Anyway, it's probably because controllers have fewer buttons than a keyboard and mouse and it's easier just to combine "moving slowly, making less noise, and crouching" into one function, as opposed to having one for crouching and one for moving slower.

That doesn't make a whole lot of sense. You need to toggle walking speeds on PC because the WASD keys are digital input, either stop or go. On consoles there's the luxury of analog controls, so movement speed can be as binary or fluid as the developers want without having to waste limited buttons on a speed toggle. Analog sticks provide a lot more opportunity for wide gradations in speed rather than simply toggling between walk, jog, or sprint.

Whatever the reason for games using crouching for stealth rather than simply slow movement, it doesn't make sense that limited button availability on a console would be the reason.

Holding the analog stick halfway forward for as much as you have to sneak around in stealth games would be such a pain. I point to that bit in Arkham Asylum where you have to walk carefully on floating boards or Killer Croc will leap out of the water and eat you as proof.

This feels to me like bad implementation, rather than a bad mechanic overall. My mind immediately jumps to Mario 64, where you have to sneak up on the sleeping Piranha Plants. And going back to Metal Gear V, even that uses analogue sensitivity to represent levels of sneakiness, although interestingly:

  1. It abandons much need for it once you have the Sneaking Suit, and
  2. It does so in conjunction with a 'sneak / crouch button' as well.

I'm no designer and so I'd like to ask those who have a mind for these things - objectively, is there anything to be said for one method or the other, and in either case, why has crouch-sneak remained a mainstay of modern videogames?

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If we can get a confirmation on System Shock 1, that sounds like a winner.

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#44  Edited By fisk0  Moderator

@lab392 said:

If we can get a confirmation on System Shock 1, that sounds like a winner.

Just tried playing around a little in it, and I'm still not sure if there's any difference. It goes crazy with three different stances and allowing you to lean in each one, but at least early on your stance doesn't seem to change your visibility, the medbots always see you no matter what, and the humanoid zombies seem to be pretty slow to notice you regardless of if you run around in their vicinity or if you sneak up to them. It's been so long since I played through that game, and I don't know if there may be any difference when it comes to the later (and smarter) cyborg enemies. I just tried to play through the starting area twice, once crouching the entire way and once always standing up and running.

So, yeah, as I posted previously, I played it like a stealth game back in the 90's, but it's possible playing stealthily doesn't actually change anything in there.

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Onemanarmyy

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#45  Edited By Onemanarmyy

@broddity: A lot of games have locations that are meant for an encounter. Often you'll find a ton of boxes, tables and statues around to hide behind. I feel like the stealth aspect of crouchwalking is almost secondary to the Gears of War school of ' hide behind box, shoot, walk to other box, shoot'. If a game went for the sneaky-walking option, you have a mechanic that's solely devoted to stealth. In a combat encounter you will have less options to work with. When you go for a crouchwalk, you have a system in place that works in and outside of combat. Even if you're not going for a stealth game, crouching behind a table to listen in on some nearby NPC's still looks good in an action game.