A Look Back: Bank Heist Prototype

So many games wind up in development hell, and it’s not uncommon to work on things that never see the light of day. Many projects are cancelled in public failures that dishearten fans and tank stocks. But many more games are tripped up before they are even announced or experienced by the public at large.

As game developers we can learn a lot from these experiences, but many times we simply can’t talk openly about them. I wanted to start a series of posts covering my personal best example of the one that got away.

For me that game was called Bank Heist.

The Setup

Bank Heist was a prototype made using the Source Engine. The game was to finally address the dearth of decent Cops and Robbers games in the market at the time (2009-2010). There was simply nothing like BH, and that excited us more than any project we had worked on in the industry before.

As Lead Designer at Controlled Chaos, it was my role to meld the original paper napkin vision CEO Hunter Woodlee brought to us into a tangible game design. Being a small independent developer, I was also the Level Designer on the project and designed player feedback, player and npc classes, UI, etc. I also created our various test sandboxes, and ultimately the main level seen in the few public videos of Bank Heist that are available out there.

Hunter’s initial idea was a cooperative Heist game – like Left4Dead in a bank. (If your mind is already going to Payday, I’ll cover that in a later post). Our team members jumped at the opportunity to create a game like this, but a key part of the Cops and Robbers feel was missing- we wanted to be either bad guys OR good guys.

Through several rounds of brainstorming and rough prototyping, the heist idea was expanded. Not only would robber players cooperatively complete heists amongst AI cops and civilians, cop players would battle against them, sometimes taking on hidden roles.

In the early stages we didn’t know if players should travel through a linear set of disconnected levels ala L4D, a more circular style of objective gameplay like CS or CoD, or a massive set of push sectors like in Battlefield.

We did know that the game we wanted to make would need a large quantity of feedback delivered to players, levels and player abilities that were dynamically customizable, multiple player modes and game stages within a round, and key attention paid to the moment to moment choices that players would be offered to make.

Overall the game would need to deliver on the promise of both pulling off a master heist, and thwarting the bad guys in a way that made the player feel more like John McClane than Paul Blart.

Example Gameplay

Here is a playthrough of our bank level, with a robber team that takes a no-holds-barred approach. As a reminder, this was a prototype made using Source, with Counterstrike assets such as the weapons, and some textures and models from other Source games. Much of the game assets are original, but low quality since we didn’t have a bar set for graphics or performance at that point.

It’s a live capture of a real multiplayer match, and none of the gameplay is faked except for the scripted moment with the tear gas. In another post I’ll go into how and why this level was made.

I’m excited to share some of our design decisions with you in future posts.