Indie developer Antonio Freyre has released four games in the last two years and announced another, though unless you're plumbing the depths of Steam you've likely never encountered them. The cheekily named Luckily, My Arm Is a Shotgun has the air of someone teaching themself how to use a new game engine or turning an inside joke into a game. But most of Freyre's other games, including the unreleased No Sun to Worship, seem to constantly be chasing the same inspiration: Metal Gear Solid.
He can't help it: Freyre just loves stealth games.
"I finish a stealth game and think it's time to make something else, but then I play my favorite games and I think 'but what if…" he says. "It's a 'just when I think I'm out, they pull me back in' type thing. The other reason is that I have not been fully satisfied with the stealth games I've made. I like them and I am proud, but they can still be much better. It's a very difficult genre to nail and I love a good challenge."
Freyre's first stealth game, The Chameleon, has a strikingly grungy lo-poly PS1 look that he describes on the Steam page as "gloriously fat pixels," starring a Hawaiian-shirt wearing character who resembles GTA: Vice City's Tommy Vercetti. When he's not transforming into other characters, anyway. It was a learning project for Freyre, who says he had "no clue" what he was doing and started the project by following tutorials online to learn how to make a character crouch or program rudimentary AI. When he gave his character a punch that sent enemies ragdolling across the screen, he realized how much fun that was. "There wasn't too much thought put into the game design other than 'you need to hide and you can punch,'" he says.
Things were different for his second game, his most blatant Metal Gear Solid homage: Undetected, which he approached "much more methodically."
"I carefully planned what I wanted to do, which was a game that looked/felt like MGS1, but played like other arcadey stealth games (e.g. Mark of the Ninja, Aragami, Volume)," he says. "I added light/dark mechanics, different weapon types that help you distract enemies, etc. I also made it fully non-lethal, because my logic was that it should be pure stealth. I was thinking of the light/dark/enemies as if it were a puzzle platformer. You must dodge the enemies and jump from shadow to shadow. It was supposed to be a pure stealth experience for stealth fans, but the fact that it looks like MGS1 gave people the wrong expectations. MGS1 actually barely has any stealth. It is mostly action. During development, I constantly struggled with these two concepts (MGSlike vs pure stealth) and so the game is a mix of both. Sometimes to its advantage, other times to its detriment."
Undetected was only the second game he'd ever made, but the similarity to Metal Gear attracted enough attention to get picked up by small publisher Digerati—and that attention brought with it a lot more pressure. I asked Freyre if he's interested in making a stealth game with a larger team, because his upcoming game No Sun to Worship looks like another riff on PS1-era stealth.
"Sometimes I dream of that, but I also feel like a team effort might not be the best idea for me," he says. "Every day I'm more and more attracted to making smaller, weirder games. The freedom of self-funding and doing everything yourself is incredible. But if someone wants to fund it, I'd love to make something like an indie Ground Zeroes. Open levels, lots of freedom, hardcore stealth."
Aside from some occasional art outsourcing, Freyre has made all of his games alone, which he mainly chalks up to having a rigorous work ethic during his development time. He doesn't crunch, he says, but he does avoid distractions like YouTube and Twitter while he's working.
"I know I don't have the luxury of taking too much time or trying to do realistic graphics. I know it's not smart for me to do 10 iterations on the main character model. I just go for it. As a solo dev, you have to learn to make decisions quickly and to approve things quickly too. Anything that you make can always be better. It's up to you to say 'this is good enough' and move on. Otherwise, you'll never stop tweaking and improving one single thing."
For a green developer, he already seems to have a great handle on setting tone. The Chameleon's trailer mixes in some stylized live action shots of Freyre himself wearing a Hawaiian shirt and demonstrates a knack for editing. The brief teaser for No Sun to Worship feels like Splinter Cell run through a dark, oppressive grindhouse filter.
It's distinct from Undetected, which fits with Freyre's goal of making a game that better balanced action and stealth. He says to think of it as a mix of Hitman, Splinter Cell and classic Doom.
"The result is a type of 'hunter' game, in which killing enemies is not only encouraged but sometimes required," he says. "You can still mostly ghost the game, but you have targets to kill if you want to finish a mission."
To my eye it looks like the most interesting stealth game he's made yet—which, ironically, wasn't his primary goal this time around. "In my previous two stealth games, I was trying to fit certain genre expectations and certain tropes, because I was trying to 'make a stealth game.' Now I'm just trying to make a good game, which happens to have stealth in it to serve the story and message I want to share. This way of thinking liberated me and allowed me to make something more original but also more fun and polished."
It can be hard for small developers to stand out on Steam, where hundreds of games launch every day. But I love that PC gaming is now accessible enough for creators passionate about one very specific thing to keep noodling on that idea, like quicktequila's Lovely Planet series. With seemingly all of Metal Gear Solid finally coming to PC, it's going to be a great couple years for stealth games. At his current pace, Freyre probably has time to knock out another Metal Gear homage or two by the time that Snake Eater remake shows up.