Three years after winning the Independent Games Festival’s grand prize, Monaco is finally nearing its much-anticipated release. Monaco is the latest title from Pocketwatch Games; its founder, Andy Schatz, having originated the game’s design in 2004. Monaco has come a long way since then in what Schatz describes as the “the experience of a lifetime.”
Schatz explains that the concept for the game was inspired by multiple influences: “Stealth games and other top down games like Gauntlet or Pacman. Really the primary driving inspirations for the game are heist movies and the emotional arc that you go through when you watch heist movies, and trying to get the player to feel as clever as the thieves in a good heist movie.”
Schatz’s argument for the significance of Pacman’s influence on Monaco is compelling. “I like to say that Pacman was the first stealth game actually, because for 90% of Pacman you have no weapons and no way to fight the enemies, and then occasionally you’re empowered to go fight the enemies. And to me, a stealth game is more about that emotion of fear and staying in the shadows and feeling like the prey rather than the predator, which would be more typical in a lot of other games,” says Schatz.
One of the core mechanics characterising Monaco’s gameplay is the use of limited visibility. Schatz believes that this dynamic is a key element of the game’s stealth experience. “So in Monaco of course it’s a top down perspective but the sight lines are blocked by walls and such and the areas that you can’t see appear as blue prints and the areas you can see appear as the real world. So you can see 360 degrees around you, so you actually have a much greater situational awareness than you do in a first person game; and I think that’s one of the big problems with stealth games is a lack of situational awareness, so putting it from a top down perspective but with some sort of simulated fog of war I think is a much better way to evoke the emotions you get when you actually are trying to hide,” says Schatz.
Another core mechanic of the game is the choice between eight different characters with unique abilities and personalities. These characters are: the Locksmith, who specialises in unlocking doors and cracking safes; the Lookout, who can move faster and has a wider vision range; the Pickpocket, who is a hobo with a monkey that can collect money; the Cleaner, who can knock out people with chloroform; the Mole, who can tunnel through most walls in the game; the Gentleman, who can utilise disguises to fool guards; the Hacker, who can create computer viruses that will follow him around and hack security systems; and the Redhead, who can seduce a guard into doing her bidding for her. This variety of characters allows for a considerable range of tactics and approaches that different teams can take towards the same missions.
Schatz explains: “Well you know it’s interesting because there are a ton of different dynamics between the players, like having a Cleaner and a Lookout working together works really well because the Lookout can hide somewhere and the Cleaner knows where the guards are and it makes it so much easier for him to sneak up on people. The Gentleman and the Locksmith actually make a good team, so the Gentleman can go in and set off an alarm but he’s disguised so the guards come in and don’t know who set off the alarm, and in the meantime the Locksmith is going through and opening some safe that was previously guarded by the lasers.”
With so many characters in a game, balancing can often be an issue, though Schatz seems confident that he has this area covered: “One of the interesting things about balancing for characters is that when you have eight characters, everyone’s going to think that one of the characters is overpowered and everyone’s going to think that one of the characters is underpowered, but as long as everyone disagrees on who those characters are, I think I’ve done my job well.”
A great deal of research and attention to detail has also gone into the settings and scenarios for Monaco, which are rooted in real world counterparts, “Well it’s all set in Monaco, many of the levels actually are inspired by actual locations in Monaco. We used Google satellite view in order to even get the foot print of some of the famous locations in Monaco in order to build the levels,” says Schatz. “And so there’s actually been a number of famous heists in Monaco itself and then around the world as well, and so I’ve tried to base the missions on some of these real life heist stories.”
Monaco is currently scheduled for release on PC, Mac and Xbox Live Arcade but Schatz hopes to bring the game to other platforms in the future. “Linux is definitely in the plans. I would love to bring it to PSN but we’ll have to see how well the game does after it comes out.” PC owners can already pre-order the game for $13.50, discounted from $15, or they can buy a four pack for $45 to share with their friends for the price of three, an incentive which further encourages the co-operative aspect of the game.
While only a short wait remains until Monaco’s release, Schatz is still unsure of a precise date. Schatz explains that “I was hoping for March but it kind of looks like, not because anything’s been delayed, just because of the certification process on Xbox takes a little while longer than I expected it did; it looks like April is probably likely.” At any rate, when Monaco launches it looks set to be one of 2013’s most entertaining co-op gaming experiences.
Monaco can be pre-ordered for PC now at www.pocketwatchgames.com/Monaco