I'd like to see more options for stealthy gameplay in MMORPGs that offer combat. I don't mean just adding specialized Rogue skills for detecting traps and opening locks -- I'm talking about adding gameplay that takes advantage of more detailed environments in order to use visibility of objects and mobs as an active gameplay element.
Some single-player games alrady do this to a limited degree in that the player character can sneak up on NPCs. This is an application of a "stealth score" versus an "awareness score." What's interesting about this from a game design perspective is how amazingly underused this mechanic has been. What if visibility vs. awareness could be expanded to apply to many more objects?
Imagine that a game's developers could imbue anything with a visibility score. This would create the ability for the developers (or possibly players) to be able to hide things -- there could be secret doors, loot dropped in the grass, false passages, unknown object capabilities, and so on, all just waiting to be discovered by an enterprising player with a sufficiently high awareness score.
In effect, visibility would become an important minigame within the overall game. In addition to straight-up combat, players would be able to look for objects and processes that would reduce their personal visibility or the visibility of certain kinds of objects they own, or increase their awareness of world objects (including characters).
This highlights the importance of of visibility and awareness modifiers in a stealth-enabled game. I'd suggest organizing the types of modifiers possible into categories like the following:
In a stealth-enabled gameworld, everything would have a "visibility profile" from which its visibility score is constructed. The profile would include numeric ratings indicating the degree of all the physical ways in which a thing exists in the world:
- local noise
- object use
- tools (survey tools, harvesters, etc.)
- weapons (visibility based on weapon type)
- emissions from using active-mode detection gear
- innate/passive racial abilities affecting both visibility and awareness
- learned/active skills (/camouflage, /maskscent, etc.)
- camouflage clothing (per environment)
- chameleon suit
- light amplification goggles (night vision goggles)
- infrared/ultraviolet detection
- audio detectors (detects conversation, movement)
- active noise-cancelling sound projection
- scent detector (guard animals)
- radio detector (detects nearby communications)
- radar detector (detects nearby use of active radar)
- Geiger counter
- pressure sensor
- motion detector
- awareness-increasing drugs (should have negative side effects)
- visual (with what environment does the thing blend in best, and to what degree?)
- sonic (how much noise does the thing make?)
- smell (does the thing have a smell?)
- motion (is the thing moving?)
- electronic (does the thing emit radio signals?)
- mass/density/weight (does the thing reflect a radar "ping" or activate a pressure sensor?)
Similarly, the final awareness score would be derived from the thing's natural awarenesses of each category of presence in the world, modified by any detection gear or enablers used and by any actions taken to increase awareness (active observation vs. normal activity).
It should be noted that these ideas apply most obviously to PvE play, but dynamic modifiers could allow it to work for PvP as well. In a way, this would become a sort of ECM/ECCM minigame.
It seems to me that a game that offered such a robust system for enabling stealthiness just might be so much fun that even non-combat players would be willing to give it a try. Am I wrong about that?