Co-Optimus: Rather than each player having the same (or similar) abilities, the Thief and the Hacker are truly unique with neither one having any kind of overlap with the other. This extends even to their viewpoints, with one being first-person and the other top-down tactical. Why such disparity?
Jake: This was part of the core pitch of the game, and all throughout development we worked hard to stick to this idea of truly different gameplay styles cooperating together with the same goal. Cyber Heist is about trust, and after doing a lot of research we found that when one person can “carry” a cooperative experience for a team, it frequently becomes neither cooperative nor fun.
We wanted the experience to be as cooperative as possible, and that required both players to have an irreplaceable function in the game. We gave essential mechanics to both roles to prevent players from sitting back and letting someone else win the game for them. Developing such different gameplay styles reinforced the idea that players had their own unique responsibilities, and couldn’t rely on the other person to do the tasks they were responsible for. Both players really depend on each other in Cyber Heist, and the interlocking gameplay mechanics for the Thief and the Hacker play a huge role in that.
Co-Optimus: So where did the idea for this asymmetrical co-op come from? Did other games serves as inspiration?
Jake: The initial idea was to combine the stealth mechanics from Metal Gear Solid with the hacking mini-games from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. However, as we began prototyping the ideas we found that both sides of source material had significant problems. Metal Gear Solid relied on a lot of patience, observation, and control, and was fun because the player had a sense of mastery over their environment. When we removed the patience and observation elements of that game and gave them to the Hacker, the Thief side felt extremely confusing, rushed, and helpless. Meanwhile, the Deus Ex gameplay was problematic for the Hacker gameplay because the puzzles were intended to have one of very few possible solutions, and were not meant for extended tactical play.
After the prototype phase we did a lot of research on the feel of stealth-based gameplay, and took a lot of inspiration from team-based stealth games like Monaco. While we rarely had games to inspire us on the specific mechanics that we ended up using (especially for the Hacker side), we took a lot of inspiration on the feel of already successful cooperative games.
Co-Optimus: What do you feel defines a "good" co-op experience for players? Do you believe that giving players such distinct skill sets engenders more cooperation?
Jake: Absolutely. A good cooperative experience means that both players feel equally important in the solution, and equally responsible for the outcome. I think there’s no better way to deliver a co-operative experience than to give a player a critical task that they and ONLY they are responsible for.
One of the many goals we had for Cyber Heist was to deliver a game that would allow both hardcore and casual gamers to connect and cooperate in a single game. As hardcore gamers, our experience with trying to play cooperative games with our casual friends usually ended up with us exclusively issuing commands while our friends would quickly become bored and let us carry the whole experience. In Cyber Heist, we wanted both players to really feel like they had something critical to contribute to completing each level, and couldn’t just sit back and watch. Both players are required to pay full attention, communicate back and forth, and actively work together to progress through the game.
Co-Optimus: So was that the initial design idea for this game, or did it change as development progressed?
Jake: We were pretty focused on the idea of trust and asymmetrical gameplay from very early on in the process, and really stuck with it all through development. We would frequently change individual themes or features or even core mechanics of the game, but only to serve those unchanging thesis ideas from the initial pitch. Any new ideas or features were always tested against our thesis, and it kept the game and development pretty streamlined.
As we developed the design of the game to serve this core idea, the game changed from a slower stealth/strategy game to a much faster-paced, high-energy experience. I really enjoyed seeing players yell and communicate with each other as they played, and pushed the design to facilitate more of that frantic, high-stress verbal communication. As failing became easier, levels shortened to allow players to get right back in the action and try again without feeling like they’d lost too much. Cyber Heist became about trial-and-error, both failing and learning quickly.
Co-Optimus: What are some of your favorite co-op games to play?
Jake: My favorite cooperative games are the ones where I have a very specific role to contribute to a larger team like in MMOs such as Final Fantasy XI, or MOBAs like League of Legends. The more entrenched I can be in my specific role, the higher my trust becomes in my teammates and the more fun it is. I love playing glass cannon mages with an awesome tank, or a healer when I know my damage dealers can efficiently take out our target. Portal 2 also stands out as one of my favorite co-op experiences, because both players have to be actively involved in the solution. The same goes for Monaco and even board games like Sentinels of the Multiverse and Arkham Horror. My favorite thing about games are their ability to bring people closer together, and no games do that better than cooperative games.
Co-Optimus: What’s next for Cyber Heist? I know you all have a Steam Greenlight page going and the game itself is available on Desura, but what are your future plans? Will the team stay together?
Jake: The point of Cyber Heist was to get all of our team members employed in the video game industry, and for the most part its been extremely successful. We always had a goal to get the game onto Steam Greenlight, and even though the team is currently spread across the country, we still keep in touch to work on different things to get it ready for Greenlight. We really hope to see the success of Cyber Heist’s Greenlight campaign.