Smooth Criminals puts players in control of four animal thieves, each with their own criminal specialties, which they can use to work together to break into an art gallery and steal back from valuable paintings from a nefarious art thief.
Still, what makes for a good stealth crime game, especially one that uses multiple characters with various skills? Siliconera spoke with director Kyle Vaidyanathan and composer Jano Manzali to learn a bit more about what goes into a good heist game, both through play and through the music that enhances the action.
What made you want to work on a heist game with varied characters? What was it about the concept that appealed to you?
Jano Manzali, Composer for Smooth Criminals – I always loved heist movies as a kid. So, when given the opportunity to score a heist theme game, I couldn’t refuse! Especially when I learned that there would be a live big band recording my score.
I also liked how, in the movies, there was always a team and each member had a specific skill or ability. Even though they are the best at what they do, they need each other in order to complete the mission. I thought it would be interesting to convey this musically as well. Even though the characters have very distinct theme songs, they all share something in common. In this case they all have jazz elements. Some themes are rock or electronic oriented, but I always added something jazzy in order to tie them all together. It makes them feel like they belong to something bigger.
Beyond their abilities, what thoughts went into making each character stand out as an individual? How did you make each character feel unique?
Music usually plays a major a role in making the characters come to life. You can really get to know them just by listening. I wrote several drafts before I was finally convinced that each character’s theme song really resonated with their personality. The character’s themes ended up sounding very contrasting and different from each other, which makes them each even more unique.
It is really important to capture their essence when writing the music, but the beauty of composing for video games is that the music can also inspire character design and add to their uniqueness. Since I started working early in the process, some developers in the team told me they would work on a character while listening to the themes I wrote and that would sometimes steer them in a different direction than previously planned.
What goes into making good music for a heist game? What kind of musical style fit this play experience for you?
In Smooth Criminals, being stealthy is a big part of the heist. A really good technique often used in heist games is to separate the music into layers of intensity. The base layer keeps looping, and if the player is spotted, one intense layer is added. Although the character’s themes cover several different music styles, they all have a stealth and an intense layer.
What thoughts go into tying music to a character, for you? How do you make a connection to a character through song?
A lot of variables comes into play. Sometimes the character’s background is what inspires me. Sometimes it’s their special ability or their physical appearance. In this case, I tied a different style of music to each character based on a mix of all factors I mentioned before. The team also had some general music ideas and pointed me to the right direction. I wrote several drafts before I was finally convinced that each character’s theme really resonated with their personality.
How did you choose what each of the four characters would do?
Kyle Vaidyanathan, Smooth Criminals’ Director – We chose what the characters did partially based on classic heist tropes (cat burglar, hacker, etc.) and paired them with different game mechanics that fit the character.
How did you create challenging stages that would require everyone’s abilities? How did you work so many different skills in?
To make the levels, we came up with different obstacles or traps that some characters could defeat but others could not, and then arranged them so you would need to split your characters up, and then when they do their job it allows the rest of the characters to proceed. We wanted there to be a lot of different skills so that it wasn’t obvious which skill to use, and the game would not feel repetitive.
What difficulties did you face in working all of these different mechanics into a single game? In working several powers into a stealth game?
There were a lot of mechanics to design and implement, which took a lot of our production time. This made it difficult to also design a lot of different museum areas and enemies. We also had to think a lot about how to make the game feel balanced because we didn’t want the players to think any of the characters were useless or far superior.
What difficulties did you face in putting so much art into the game to make the galleries feel real? How did you choose what would go into the game?
We knew that we didn’t have the resources to make unique art for all the galleries, so we were inspired by our egotistical villain and decided to put his face on famous paintings that players might recognize. We also wanted to use this as an opportunity to showcase art from our fellow students that you wouldn’t find in any real museum.