The combination of turn-based and stealth gameplay in Invisible Inc makes so much sense it makes me wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Which large numbers of commenters will probably take as their cue to start listing titles, but while I’m sure there are turn-based games with stealth elements (even X-COM has stealth elements if you count those times when you see the enemy position without them seeing you), I can’t think of many PURE stealth turn-based games. Pure stealth as in “No health bars for you, me old china, if a guard spots you and you aren’t out of sight before the signal reaches his brain then you’re going to be taking a closer look at the carpet.”
I suppose ‘stealth’ is one of those things that can be defined a lot of ways. Pac-Man is arguably a stealth game. But the point is, it works in a turn-based format because stealth has a large element of strategic planning and forethought as you artfully manoeuvre yourself in such a way that you always stay out of the enemy line of sight. And while one can appreciate the challenge of having to come up with that kind of strategy on the fly, it’s also nice to be able to think about it for as long as you need, and feel smarter than you actually are, which a turn-based model offers.
What turn-based loses in adrenaline-pumping moment-to-moment action it gains in accessibility for the slower, more tactical thinker. I’d like to see a turn-based game where, after every mission or combat sequence, the game plays a recording of the battle from an outside perspective, in real time, so that your five-minute musing turns into split-second decisions and you can see how smart you could, hypothetically, have looked. I’d call it L’Espirt D’Escalier: The Game.
Actually, thinking about it, it wouldn’t look much like a real-time battle because in real-time battles people do not take it in turns to move, remaining planted firmly to the ground while everyone positions themselves in single file. I wonder, and here we provoke the commenters again, are there turn-based games where all the actions of your characters and enemies are queued up in a single moment, and are all executed simultaneously when everyone’s ready? I suppose that’s essentially just a real-time tactical shooter with a mandatory pause every few seconds.
Anyway. The point was, stealth gameplay works well in a turn-based format, and while I do like a challenging slice of real-time action, sometimes I want to relax and be able to carefully consider my moves before they are made, in a controlled fantasy environment where there’s no real time urgency. Which is why it makes me wonder why the words ‘turn-based’ must it seems always be followed by the word ‘combat’. It’s not like shooting at each other from partially behind bits of old wall is the only situation in which one might need to strategically plan your moves carefully. To that end, let’s think of some other, less combat-y kinds of gameplay that might also work in a turn-based format.
Turn-based car racing
All those times I was being spun out into the dirt by more experienced players in one of the sports-car-only races around the prison in GTA Online, I’d think it would have been so much easier to make no mistakes whatsoever like the jammy git in front if I’d had time to decide if this particular point in the turn was the optimum moment to slam on the gas. Or to maybe point out to the guy just behind with designs on a side-swipe that neither of us will be getting any closer to the cunt up front while we’re both doing somersaults on the hard shoulder like a pair of joyful spring lambs.
I realise that when we talk about making different styles of gameplay into turn-based systems, we are indirectly talking about how to turn them into board games. And at this point I should mention that I have played a board game based around car racing, although I forget the name. It was all about balancing speed with your capacity to turn and take a beating. I remember it fondly because I used to play it with an incredibly competitive friend of mine. On one occasion he was about to glide into first place after making all the best logical decisions, only for me to appear in the pile of dented burning scrap that had once been a car and rocket ahead with a terribly lucky roll that made my car essentially self-destruct in a directed fashion. It would have been a memorable victory lap before I exploded into a cloud of fanbelts and teeth.
Turn-based Cooking Mama
As a bachelor who has only relatively recently discovered the benefits of cooking for oneself, and restricting Pizza Night to just a bare four or five days of the week, I’ve been surprised how much strategy and timing is involved in the simple act of cooking a nice simple steak and veg for dinner. I’ve got a whole attack sequence worked out, now. Drop steak in the pan, run over and start two-minute timer on the frozen vegetables in the microwave, run back and flip the steak every 20 seconds the way Heston Blumenthal recommends, etc. The only drawback I see to a turn-based cooking game is that after picking the “Leave to Simmer” option on the beef curry level you’ll have nothing to do but pick ‘Skip Turn’ over and over again for the next half hour.
In a reversal of the established exercise, we consider how to turn into a real-time mechanic what virtually every game already presents as a turn-based system: conversations with characters. It’s always ‘pause the game until the player picks their next statement, NPC gives response, pause again for rebuttal’, how about instead we direct the discussion from moment to moment. So if you’re half way through an anecdote about a black guy you saw on a bus and you see the recipient’s expression change, then you can slam on the ‘backtrack’ button and rework the sentence into a statement on civil rights. Or, while the other person is speaking, you could pick the perfect moment to interrupt them with some kind of devastating counter-argument, for example, repeating their own words back to them in a mocking tone of voice. Then putting your palms over your mouth and making farting noises until they leave.