PC Gamer US Edition|March 2022
Exploring the strange and surprising world of invisibility in videogames.
Edwin Evans-Thirlwell
In 1985, brothers James and Jim Thomas penned a film script, The Hunter, about an otherworldly creature armed with near-magical powers of camouflage. The script has a counter-intuitive take on the concept of invisibility. Rather than a mere blank spot, the Hunter exists as traces of motion without coherent form, designed to produce “a dizzying, subliminal experience” and “an intensely visual, highly emotional confrontation for the viewer.” During production, special effects teams used ‘inline mattes’ to superimpose concentric images of background foliage onto an actor. This fake translucency turns the landscape itself into an aggressor: When the Hunter or, as we know him today, the Predator finally attacks, it’s “as if the entire wall of the jungle were rushing in”. Paid homage to in every halfway-stealthy game from Crysis to Deathloop, the Predator is the nearest we have to a patron saint of invisibility in games. The weirdness of invisibility in the film—not just a Clancy-esque gizmo, but an assault on the viewer’s consciousness—reflects the startlingly varied forms invisibility takes in different species of game. Invisibility can be the ultimate power fantasy, as anybody who’s ever been brain-jacked by Sombra in Overwatch can attest. By extension, it can be a nightmare to balance, whether you’re designing a PvP shooter or simulating the reactions of AI guards to a cloaked invader. But it can also be an atmospheric device, a source of dread and uncanniness even in the mind of the camouflaged player. At its most arcane, it speaks to a long association between computer technology and magic, between feats of stage illusion and the ocular tricks all videogames necessarily consist of.


More clever examples of invisibility in games


Old school split-screen shooter in which everyone’s invisible—so you can only see where others are by looking at their screen.


A puzzle game where you move an invisible object around a grid map with movable blocks, then see if you can deduce and draw its shape.


Your nanosuit’s stealth mode turns you translucent, but watch out—your recharging power reserve is small.


Among the Predator’s least expected descendants is Maid Marian or rather, Marianne, one of the playable characters in Sumo Newcastle’s bloodthirsty medieval heist game Hood: Outlaws & Legends. A grisly retelling of English folklore, Hood is all about completing objectives undetected: Two teams of four must escape with a treasure chest while quietly murdering each other and fending off AI guards who double as a map-wide surveillance system, flagging anybody they spot on the enemy team’s HUD. Marianne is the team’s assassin (Robin Hood, of course, is the sniper), and while she doesn’t have infrared vision, she’s every bit as fearsome in the right hands as the interplanetary terror she’s inspired by.

Hood’s AI is slower to notice Marianne than other characters, and her passive Shadow ability lets her perform assassinations from the front. She can also toss smoke bombs to set up multiple targets for a takedown. But her most devastating trick is Shroud, which untags her and turns her character model semi-transparent. “We wanted it to almost feel like God mode,” says Andrew Willans, game director. “This ability that allows her to literally to walk in front of AI to assassinate them and chain those assassinations together using perks, so that hopefully when you get into the flow, it’s like shiv shiv shiv, one after another, and the AI just has this delayed response, ‘Ooh, Steve’s just been killed, but they can never quite pinpoint you.”

Designing Shroud to work against AI was straightforward enough, Willans says. Designing it to feel fair in PvP was a different story. “I think that was probably one of the hardest things throughout development to get right.” Sumo experimented with total invisibility, but this proved “impossible” for opponents, “so it was kind of working back from there.” Some early prototypes for Shroud were downright horrifying. “We had a bug for about three months where her eyes stayed visible while cloaked. It looked so sinister—now that was truly the Predator.”


Feats of illusion, shared by Mariano Tomatis


One of Robertson’s tricks used a black shutter that could be rotated to view a space with a black backdrop. By rotating the shutter, people behind it appeared to disappear.


Working with the engineer Henry Dircks, Pepper used a glass sheet to conjure ghosts. Reflections of actors in a hidden room would appear on-stage when


One of the earliest demonstrations of the magic of film editing, based on a famous stage trick involving a hidden trapdoor. Here, no trapdoor is needed.


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