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Klei Entertainment

Steam Early Access photo
Steam Early Access

Invisible, Inc. brings its tactical espionage to Steam Early Access this month


August 19
Aug 01
// Jordan Devore
Don't Starve and Mark of the Ninja studio Klei Entertainment has honed in on an August 19 Steam Early Access launch for its turn-based stealth game Invisible, Inc. It's been playable in an alpha capacity already, so this is j...

To dye for: Invisible Inc. is my kind of strategy-stealth game

Jul 17 // Steven Hansen
[embed]269093:52239:0[/embed] Invisible, Inc. (PC)Developer: Klei EntertainmentPublisher:  Klei Entertainment Invisible, Inc. requires balance because there are a lot of overlaid systems. You have roughly a week and half to work up to your final job. Each day is a mission (randomly generated), like having to rescue someone you can recruit to your spy team. There's a bit of Don't Starve's permadeath here, along with the assumption that you will fail, and that's okay. At least you're only losing a few hours of missions rather than an entire 30-hour XCOM campaign.  So, active stealth. On the top right of the screen is a counter that goes up each turn (occasionally by more than one block). As the level rises, extra security cameras will be turned on, more guards will enter the fray, and things will become impossible. That's the fire lit under you to keep the pace up and keep you from a) playing cautiously and b) playing obsessively. Aside from your main objective (which can have time constraints -- in rescuing a courier, he had to be extracted within a certain number of turns of he'd expire from fatigue) and obstacles, levels are all filled with things to hack for more resources. With the threat ticker, though, you won't necessarily have time to scour each and every blacked-out room on the map, which keeps things tense and makes sure you don't end up overpowered in subsequent missions because you got all the things. It isn't just active because of pacing, either. The UI is designed to give you as much information as possible, so that "when you die, it's your fault." You can even be alerted, with red spaces, when an area outside of your field of vision is potentially dangerous so you don't blindly, "fog of war" walk yourself into a game-ending scenario, because losing one of your operatives is basically a game over, though you can keep trying to power through until you lose every operative. And it's tough to keep them alive with guards (and, later, drones and things) walking about. Cross an enemy's field of vision and you're allowed to move exactly one space in reaction, if that helps get you out of the way, or send an ally to deal with the guard, before they one-hit kill you.  Again, active stealth. Even this you can use to your advantage. Edge around a corner in a guard's (separately defined) peripheral field of vision, then set a melee overwatch, and you can lure them to check it out and pounce like a trap-door spider. Every agent has a melee overwatch that incapacitates guards for two turns, or as long as you remain on top of them. If you get off for one turn, then get back on, that guard still only has one turn before they wake back up, confused. You can lure guards similarly by quickly opening and closing doors as you stand off to the side. Even the act of peeping becomes active. Rather than watching an enemy's movement pattern, the Observe action -- newly implemented after feedback from the alpha -- will let you know if a guard is patrolling, or just staying still. The idea, on a mission by mission basis and for the whole course of the game, is to gather information as best you can to become powerful. With Internationale's beefed-up hacking skills, hack a camera from afar to increase your field of view and figure out what's lurking behind obscured corners without putting yourself in danger. And of course everything is properly antagonistic. Even going up against a vanilla, drone-less corporation for the sake of this demo, Cheng nearly blew the entire mission. Some hackable things have protections installed that will do things like up the threat counter a few more ticks or prevent CPU, your hacking resource, from refilling. It will be necessary to hack them anyways and deal with the consequences. Null drones disable the Mainframe view in their radius, keeping you from hacking at all until you dispatch them with an EMP. In the alpha build that's been out this year, Cheng said the "only way [he] can play it is by using exploits the normal player won't know about." This current build, rejiggered from the alpha testing, looks fantastic. Invisible, Inc. will be coming to Early Access next month, sans final boss, in an effort to keep iterating on player feedback and getting the balancing just right. Me, I'll probably wait until the final release. When it comes, though, I have a feeling it'll be one of my favorite games this year. 
Preview Invisible, Inc. photo
XCOM meets Transistor, uh, meets a stealth game
A chasm in stealth games tends to be player skill and the supposed skills of super sleuth avatars. You're often eased into the situation, your lack of skill assumed, or you just fumble your way through -- especially with the ...

Don't Starve photo
Don't Starve

Don't Starve's Giants DLC is finally coming to PS4


It's a pretty nice addition
Jul 15
// Chris Carter
Don't Starve is a pretty awesome game, and I'm glad that it's playable on the PS4. The only problem is, the massive Reign of Giants DLC pack, which adds spring and summer alongside of over a hundred more updates isn't out ye...
PS Vita photo
PS Vita

Don't Starve: Giant Edition will be a good fit for PlayStation Vita


Cause for celebration
Jun 06
// Jordan Devore
Klei Entertainment said it was looking into bringing Don't Starve to PS Vita and the studio confirmed today that it's moving forward with the port. This version will launch with the Reign of Giants DLC included -- that's two ...

Read the writing on the wall with Invisible, Inc.

Apr 17 // Darren Nakamura
Invisible, Inc. (PC)Developer: Klei Entertainment At a base level, Invisible, Inc. is fairly easy to grasp. The player controls a small team of spies tasked with infiltrating a well-guarded building and stealing information. The action takes place on a square grid, with areas out of line of sight not shown. Play alternates between the spy team and the corporate team, rather than by individual units. Units have a certain number of movement points along with one action point to spend every turn. One mechanic that allows the player to feel more like a heist coordinator is that each unit can be activated any number of times during a round, so long as that unit has action or movement points remaining. As a result, the player can move one unit to a corner, peek around it to see if the coast is clear, move a different unit down that hallway, and then return to the first to work toward a different objective. Using this ability to make plans come together feels particularly satisfying, but it also has some use when things fall apart as well. When a guard spots any of the spies, it will pursue unless incapacitated in some way. After stumbling with one character into sight, other characters might be able to jump in and help keep the guard busy. [embed]273342:53446:0[/embed] Directly engaging the guards is rarely the smartest option, but the spies do have a few tricks to employ in case they need to. Each unit can knock a guard out from behind, which incapacitates the guard for a full turn. Other abilities are made available through items, either equipped from the start or found throughout a mission. Of the two characters in the PAX demo, one had a single-shot tranquilizer gun that would put an enemy down for good, while the other had a low damage pistol, meant more for distraction or as a last resort than for taking guards down. The spy units have fairly meager health, only able to take two or three shots before going down. In contrast, the guards had something on the order of eight health apiece. Firefights or face-to-face brawls are not the way to go. One of the other aspects of Invisible, Inc. is the hacking screen. Bringing it up, players can see electronic devices in the vicinity, and by spending CPU points (which accumulate over time or can be found in safes), the devices can be hacked to work to the player's advantage. For instance, taking over a security camera will not only prevent agents from being spotted by it, but will also provide eyes on an area without having to be physically present. With those tools and some patience, the agents can hope to avoid detection, but things can go awry for those who take too long. Each turn, the threat level is increasing, and the corporation is becoming more and more aware of the spies' presence. Toward the end of my time with the demo, I was able to see an elite squad of guards dispatched, in addition to the native guards in the area. Were I not already about to lose, it would have been particularly worrisome. I can imagine getting into Invisible, Inc. pretty deeply. Like a lot of great games with procedurally generated environments, it seems brutally difficult at first, but each defeat teaches a lesson. At no point did I feel it was unfair, because everything that went wrong in my first mission was my fault, and the game systems do a good job at making that clear. Though a single mission does not run especially quickly, it is not so long that the "one more try" mentality is absent. So far, Klei is living up to their name in delivering fair, difficult stealth gameplay. I am looking forward to getting some more time with Invisible, Inc. Next time, I think I can do better...
Invisible Inc. photo
The writing says 'you are bad at this game'
Turn-based tactical espionage. Those words were all it took to sell me on the idea of Invisible, Inc. Going into the PAX demo, I knew I would have to be cunning, thoughtful, and sneaky if I wanted to successfully steal intell...

Don't Starve DLC photo
Don't Starve DLC

Don't Starve's Reign of Giants DLC out on Steam


Coming soon to the PS4
Apr 03
// Chris Carter
For those of you who have experienced countless deaths in Don't Starve, countless more await with the addition of the Reign of Giants DLC, which debuted on Steam today. After you download the add-on you can basically toggle i...
Invisible, Inc. photo
Invisible, Inc.

Invisible, Inc. shows off true tactical espionage action


I have an inkling this will be great
Mar 13
// Steven Hansen
I liked the name Incognita well enough, but I'm still impressed with Invisible, Inc. Damn. Klei's recent efforts (Mark of the Ninja, Don't Starve) should be enough to sell you on Invisible, Inc., which you can buy early and ...
Klei toys photo
Klei toys

Klei opens up an online toy storefront


Featuring Mark of the Ninja and Don't Starve
Feb 19
// Chris Carter
Klei, the makers of great games like Mark of the Ninja and Don't Starve, have opened up a digital storefront for the two aforementioned games. Although the former only offers up a $49.99 limited edition vinyl figure (whi...
Don't Starve photo
Don't Starve

Klei 'investigating' Don't Starve for PS Vita, mobile


iOS support less of a priority
Jan 21
// Jordan Devore
Klei Entertainment had previously mentioned it was "looking at" possibly doing a dedicated PS Vita version of its survival game Don't Starve, much to our delight. Now, community manager Corey Rollins tells Edge that the devel...
Don't Starve photo
Don't Starve

Klei teases Reign of Giants DLC for Don't Starve


Coming soon
Jan 17
// Jordan Devore
As if we don't already have enough to worry about in Don't Starve, from the obvious starvation and creeping insanity to tree monsters and whatever the hell this thing is, Klei Entertainment is adding to the list of things th...
Invisible Inc. photo
Invisible Inc.

Incognita is now called Invisible, Inc.


I just got that...
Jan 16
// Alasdair Duncan
Klei's strategy espionage title Incognita has been on my radar for a while and now the game has been re-christened as Invisible, Inc. I loved its previous game Mark of the Ninja, (Hey, Don't Starve is good too) and...

Even without Plus, Don't Starve is worth playing on PS4

Jan 08 // Jordan Devore
Don't Starve (Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4)Developer: Klei EntertainmentPublisher: Klei EntertainmentReleased: April 23, 2013 (Linux, Mac, PC) / January 7, 2014 (PS4)MSRP: $14.99 (Free with PlayStation Plus) Klei Entertainment built up the Steam version of Don't Starve over the course of last year with continual updates. Like most other work-in-progress games available for purchase, I waited to give it a proper look until what's there was, in my mind, mostly well put together. Eventually, the word-of-mouth got to be too strong for me and I had no choice but to play what has gone on to become my favorite of the studio's titles. PlayStation 4 owners are lucky in that the game they're being introduced to is up to date with what's available on Steam. As described in Fraser Brown's original review for Destructoid, Don't Starve is a brutally difficult game of survival that revolves around acquiring resources and figuring out how best to use them to last another day. I'm quite bad at it, but that doesn't seem to matter one bit. It's entirely possible to have a thrilling time despite continuously failing to reach your own personal goals, whatever those might be. Often times, it's just "Make it to sunrise." The major difference on PS4 is the move away from mouse and keyboard controls. While that input method is more efficient and will be preferable for many players as a result, I quite like playing Don't Starve on a gamepad as well. Pressing L2 brings up your crafting menu, in real time, while pressing R2 pauses the action, zooms in on your inventory, and allows you to make adjustments at your own pace. Besides navigating through your inventory using the right analog stick, everything is about what you'd expect: face buttons perform primary actions, the d-pad allows you to use items in various ways, and the Touch Pad serves as an ideal map button. My only real complaint is that the item names and images can be difficult to make out, even when you enlarge the inventory. Otherwise, Don't Starve looks and plays wonderfully on PS4. Not every feature has made the transition to consoles so don't go in expecting, say, mod support. One omission I was sad to discover relates to how when first starting a run, you're able to customize the individual elements that'll be procedurally generated. The feature is still here, mostly. On PC, you could increase, decrease, or turn off elements -- such as Hounds, which I recommend new players do -- but that first option, making it so more Pigmen (or whatever) spawn in your customized world, doesn't seem to exist in this version. With a PlayStation Plus subscription, you should absolutely play this. You may not ultimately care for the game as it's rather clearly not intended to be enjoyed by everyone, but it represents some of the best in its genre and should be experienced nonetheless. Even without a Plus membership, however, Don't Starve is worth playing -- whether that be here on PS4 or on Steam. You can't go wrong either way. Alternatively, there's been chatter about a possible PS Vita version and that sure would hit the spot, wouldn't it?
Don't Starve PS4 photo
Still hungry
If you happen to be a PlayStation 4 owner who has yet to play Klei Entertainment's excellent Don't Starve, you are in for a real treat this week. PlayStation Plus members in particular should just go ahead and download it bli...

Don't Starve PS4 photo
Don't Starve PS4

Don't Starve is hitting the PS4 today, free on PS Plus


The survival game with horror elements comes to the PSN
Jan 07
// Chris Carter
Last year, Don't Starve hit the PC and took the community by storm. Although the game looks incredibly unique, there's an insane layer of depth there due to its genius design. Today, you can pick the game up on the PlayS...
PS+ free games photo
PS+ free games

PlayStation Plus freebies: Don't Starve (PS4), DmC (PS3)


DMSee you tomorrow
Jan 06
// Steven Hansen
Engorged on the blood of holiday sacrifice, PlayStation Plus is back tomorrow with free games and assorted discounts. The two you really need to know: Don't Starve will be free for PS4 users and last year's DmC will be free f...
Don't Starve Vita? photo
Don't Starve Vita?

Klei Entertainment 'looking' into Don't Starve on Vita


It would be a perfect union
Jan 06
// Chris Carter
Don't Starve was a pleasant surprise. Not only was the art direction wonderfully macabre, but it also provided one of the best survival experiences of 2013. As it gears up to hit consoles in the form of the PlayStation 4, one...
Klei photo
Klei

Klei's 'The Screecher' mod for Don't Starve is spooky


Yes, I jumped
Oct 24
// Jordan Devore
Klei Entertainment has added a free horror mod to Don't Starve, accessible from the main menu. It's called "The Screecher" and while there are shared elements with the core game -- we, the player, are still stranded in the wi...
Klei photo
Klei

Klei launches paid alpha build of Incognita


Sleek turn-based combat
Sep 10
// Jordan Devore
Klei Entertainment has opened pre-orders for its work-in-progress tactical espionage game Incognita. $16.99 gets you immediate access to the current alpha, future alpha and beta builds, and the final game when it releases in...
Klei photo
Klei

Mark of the Ninja Special Edition DLC out next week


Think of it as a 'Criterion Collection' version of the game
Aug 07
// Jordan Devore
On Friday, August 16, we'll have a good reason to boot up Mark of the Ninja again. That's when Klei Entertainment's masterful stealth game is getting its Special Edition DLC on Steam and Xbox Live Arcade for $4.99 / 400 Micro...
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Rayman on PC, Incognita, Saints Row IV & More Oculus XXX


The Destructoid Show likes turtles
Jul 26
// Max Scoville
Hey guys! I'm back! And here's today's Destructoid Show, gettin' nasty and stupid with its bad self. Rayman Legends is hitting PC, which is great. The Oculus Rift is supported by a game about sexy maids, Saints Row IV has a ...
Klei photo
Klei

First look at Klei's turn-based tactical game Incognita


Stick it to the man
Jul 26
// Jordan Devore
So this is what "turn-based tactical espionage" looks like when it's coming from the studio behind Mark of the Ninja and Don't Starve. Klei Entertainment has kindly given us a first look at Incognita with a livestream that I...
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GTA V, 400 Days of Summer, & Don Mattrickville


The Destructoid Show eats a whole cake by itself
Jul 02
// Max Scoville
Oh hey! Tara's back from Singapore! Let's talk about video games! Don Mattrick has left Microsoft to work for Zynga, Rockstar answers some Grand Theft Auto V questions, and The Walking Dead gets its interim DLC episode 400 Days in the next week, depending on your platform. Plus, Klei Entertainment's new game, Incognita is tactical turn-based stealth, and Proteus is coming to PS3/Vita.
Klei Entertainment photo
Klei Entertainment

Klei's Incognita offers 'turn-based tactical espionage'


Oh, it's on!
Jul 02
// Jordan Devore
Ever since Shank 2, Klei Entertainment has really stepped up in my mind as a studio to watch. If you've played either Don't Starve or Mark of the Ninja -- two games that killed it in their respective genres -- you're probably...
Weekly Humble Bundle photo
Weekly Humble Bundle

Klei Humble Weekly sale: Shank, Shank 2, Eets


Another slice of Humble pie
Jun 28
// Steven Hansen
You know the drill. A smorgasbord of games. You pay what you want -- as low as a penny, if your conscience can bear it. Preferably, you'll pitch in some dough to charity, some to the developers, and some to Humble Bundle, Inc...

Review: Don't Starve

Apr 29 // Fraser Brown
Don't Starve (PC)Developer: Klei EntertainmentPublisher: Klei EntertainmentReleased: April 23, 2013MSRP: $14.99 Don't Starve is both the title of Klei's latest videogame outing, and its single objective. Waking up in a savage wilderness, players are warned that night is approaching and that they should find something to eat. That one instruction is the impetus for a gruelling adventure filled with ravenous monsters and bad luck. It's a survival game by way of a roguelike, with a permadeath system just waiting to steal everything you've earned. Death lurks around every corner, and pretty much anything can spell your demise. An excursion into the forest for timber could end up with you getting pummelled into oblivion by a sentient tree, eating some unusual meat could give you food poisoning, and even the necessary act of starting a fire could end in a blazing inferno, consuming hundreds of trees and your own flesh. There's all that to look forward to if you manage to actually find something to eat before you die from starvation. At first it's actually quite simple, even if you do have to figure it all out for yourself. Berries and carrots can be found quite easily, and require no tools for gathering; so finding your first meal is as simple as walking around and using your eyes. Twigs and flint, required for making a torch, are also abundant, and so surviving for at least one night is not too tall an order. [embed]252531:48411:0[/embed] Simple scraps won't sustain your rapidly shrivelling belly for long, unfortunately, and the need for more hearty fare is what drives crafting and exploration. Cooking berries and carrots makes them a bit more nutritious, and that requires a proper fire -- none of that torch nonsense -- which means stones must be found along with logs for fuel, and this leads to the crafting of your first axe and pickaxe. Take that, nature! Have you ever chomped on roasted carrot before? It won't stave off a rumbling stomach for much longer than raw carrot. So once more, bigger morsels must be searched for. Rabbits can be snared, and that necessitates a trap, or the mighty beefalo can be hunted, though not without decent weapons and armor.  The wandering life of a beefalo murderer is not a glamorous one, I can tell you. Half of your day will be spent running away from a charging herd, and that's no fun at all. So it's a good thing that farming is an option, albeit a dirty one that smells of manure.   Playing Don't Starve is a bit like watching the history of human civilization in fast forward, if humanity amounted to one man trapped in a horrific wilderness. Simple hunting and gathering leads to farming and construction, and that in turn leads to light industry and invention, but it doesn't take thousands of years.  Within a few days, I had gone from a half starved nomad with a bushy beard and a grass tunic to a clean shaven farmer with cooking appliances, several farms, and even some beehives. It was around that time when I first met Philip. Pigmen are cowardly and stupid, but unlike everything else in the god-forsaken world of Don't Starve, they won't try to kill you unless you try to kill them (or unless it's a full moon and they've all turned into werepigs, I shit you not). They can even be befriended, should you feed them some of your delicious meat. Pig friends will join you on your adventures -- as long as it stays light -- chopping down trees, fighting monsters, and providing much needed conversation... well, they speak at least.  I befriended Philip because I felt sorry for him, and because I was responsible for his status as an orphan. During one of my expeditions, I had encountered a silky, bulbous sack, which I sensibly prodded with my spear. This caused several ebony, skittering, evil spiders to erupt from the sack, and chase me. Lamentably, I led them right into Pigtown.  The pigmen sprung into action, punching and shouting at the foul invaders, but it didn't look like they were going to manage to fend them off. I did the only rational thing a man with a torch could do -- I burned down the whole flipping place. It did, I'm proud to say, kill all of the spiders, but it also lead to the deaths of six pigmen. All that was left was a lot of meat, which I grabbed, and a lot of silk, which I also grabbed, and one solitary pig, young Philip. I fed him some of the meat I'd just acquired, and thinking about it, I probably fed him his uncle or some other relative. Regardless, he became my chum. Even with a companion, Don't Starve is a punishing experience. When night descends -- with unseen monsters and alien noises -- getting caught without light causes death in mere seconds, and as time plods on, new monsters appear, and even daylight ceases to provide safe harbor. There are so many threats that survival becomes a juggling act, requiring a lot of risk assessment. You're starving, so you need to find more food, but you're also exhausted, and sleep deprivation is turning your hallucinations into tangible horrors that will almost certainly kill you. Do you construct a sleeping mat and grab forty winks? Or do you risk venturing out into the wilds to hunt down a potentially dangerous animal? With short day and night cycles and rapidly increasing hunger and decreasing sanity, Don't Starve has a constant sense of urgency -- there's never any time for relaxation. It's stressful, and if you do happen to get caught with your pants down, you'll have to start the process all over again with none of your resources, and on a new map. Starting the exhausting experience all over again can be a bit of a grind, especially during the first few days. Don't Starve's early-game is a bit dull, with berry picking and carrot hunting taking up most of one's time, and if you've done it all before, it can be extremely monotonous. The randomly generated maps -- which can be customized before you begin -- offer up a lot of replay value, but it doesn't make the early stages of the game any more entertaining.  A day is less than ten minutes long, however, so within half an hour, things start to pick up again. The desire to improve and to live longer is a great motivator when starting over, and the continual escalation of challenge should keep anyone looking to test their mettle content. Extra characters, each with their own unique quirks and strengths, also go a long way to increasing the longevity of the title. Sometimes they can make it easier, but sometimes they increase the difficulty.  Though it's hidden away, there's an adventure mode -- complete with a story -- to be discovered within the main survival mode, and that represents the greatest of Don't Starve's challenges. The game ceases to be about mere survival, and becomes a desperate attempt to escape from an invisible prison.  As with all of Klei's games, Don't Starve has a strong, memorable art-style, though it stands out from the developer's other titles. It looks like a pop-up story book devised by Tim Burton, it's quirky but hauntingly ominous. It's matched by a dark sense of humor that permeates throughout the whole game, with characters making quips or amusing observations, and monster appearances being absurd as much as they are off-putting.  Playing Don't Starve can be infuriating. There's absolutely no guidance, and the initial punishing difficulty only increases. It demands that players figure things out for themselves and progress through exploration and experimentation rather than being spoonfed hints and tips. Its uncompromising nature will undoubtedly leave some unsatisfied and irritated, but for those who are willing to work and take risks, it pays off. The feeling of accomplishment when you manage to fend off countless cruel beasties, survive unrelenting foul weather, and fill your belly is potent. Mastering the wilderness is a difficult road, but from it comes a sense of empowerment. Of course, you could still lose it all in an instant. Such is the fickle nature of Don't Starve.  
Don't Starve review photo
Or go insane, eat odd meat, fight trees, get struck by lightning, or die
I sat across the fire from my longtime companion, Philip the pigman, in complete silence. Philip and I had been through a lot together, hunting down terrifying creatures of the night, felling mighty trees, and scoffing all th...

Mark of the Ninja photo
Mark of the Ninja

Mark of the Ninja getting new content on PC and XBLA


'What a 'Criterion Collection' version of the game would look like'
Mar 19
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Mark of the Ninja is getting some long overdue downloadable content. "We built Mark of the Ninja to be a complete experience, both in terms of its mechanics and its narrative," developer Klei Entertainment stated in their pre...
Don't Starve photo
Don't Starve

Don't Starve releasing on Steam April 23


But I'm hungry now
Mar 12
// Conrad Zimmerman
I've been eyeing Don't Starve for a good while now, being the nearest release from one of my favorite small studios, Klei Entertainment (makers of Shank and Mark of the Ninja), and being so different from what ...
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Watch Sup, Holmes? live every Sunday at 1pm PST/4pm EST
Mark of the Ninja lead designer Nels Anderson is on a roll. His first time running lead on a project and it scores multiple perfect scores, giving Klei Entertainment a new hit game to play with. The game's success can be lar...

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The DTOID Show: Assassin's Creed III, Epic Mickey & BL2


Confired: Raccoons!
Sep 24
// Max Scoville
Hey gang! Here's today's Destructoid Show! The embargo is up on last week's Assassin's Creed III coverage, which Hamza wrote up a great preview for, and for which I did a few interviews over on the Rev3games channel. In ...
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An hour of Mark of the Ninja with Nels Anderson


Sep 12
// Rick KingFoom Olson
Last night on Mash Tactics, we had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Nels Anderson, Lead Designer of the amazing stealth platformer, Mark of the Ninja. If you just so happened to miss it live, check out the abov...

Interview: Defining 2D stealth in Mark of the Ninja

Aug 23 // Casey Baker
Destructoid: So I've seen a few preview trailers for Mark of the Ninja and from what I can tell, it's stealth game with a sort of Assassin's Creed vibe set in a two-dimensional environment. Where did the idea for this come from? Nels Anderson: Well, 2D stealth games -- they don't really exist, right? There are like, maybe three others ever. Only one of which even existed when we started [Mark of the] Ninja. So, we had to do a lot, a lot, a lot of design work to just figure out how to do this stuff, because, what's the fundamental hiding action of a 3D stealth game? "Like, oh a guy is coming my way, I'm going to go hide in a corner." Except in 2D, of course, you don't have any corners. Ha, yeah exactly. So for me, the initial design process was really about looking at 3D stealth games -- the kind of games that I love -- and then deconstructing them almost, like figuring out why they made the decisions they did, and then pulling that up a level, and then translating that back down to 2D. A lot of these games are about control of space -- where is the space that I have access to and am affected in versus the space that's controlled by the guards, by their control paths, or vision or whatever. So it was kind of like, "How do we do that in 2D instead?" So it just ended up being a lot of iteration, experimentation, "Oh look, a thing doesn't work!" Just turning that over and over again until we finally got the thing pointed in the right direction. In the preview trailer, I noticed one of the big things you do for example is use a grappling hook to get out of the way... Right. So one of the main stealth "things" -- because you don't have stuff on the same plane to break up line of sight (no corners) -- one of the ways we got at good stealthiness was giving the player's ninja a lot more movement abilities than the other agents, so things like the grappling hook where I can do very precise point-to-point movement. You can climb on the walls, you can climb on the ceilings, all that kind of stuff. You can't break line of sight by, say geometry; we can get you out of line of sight instead by you being way more navigable than the enemies are. Right. Kind of on that same note I noticed light and shadow came into play in the trailer -- how much does that affect gameplay? Yeah, that comes into play as well. Like I said, I like stealth games a lot. But, I also understand how they can be inaccessible for some folks because a lot of those core stealth elements that you really need to understand to effectively play the game -- they're all kind of opaque. It's like, "I'm going to make a noise ... is that guy over there going to hear me?" You just try it and then, ope, he does, and then he shoots you in the face. Yeah, it's a lot of trial and error at times ... Even with light and darkness, it ends up just being some HUD element, right? Like, there's a light jam or some kind of meter or whatever. And that's fine, that works, but kind of because the game is in 2D, it's already a little more abstract. You're not embodied in the character if it's first-person or even third-person 3D. So we can put things in the world that may be a little more abstract without it seeming like this exogenous element that's really artificial. So things like light and darkness, for example: we wanted to make it very very explicit when you're hidden and when you're not. Whenever you're in darkness, the whole character's build is completely different so he's mainly black with a few red highlights and a white outline all around him. In light, you can see all the dark blues in his costume, there's no white outline, you can see the flesh tones, so it's really really obvious.  We did the same thing with all the noise systems in the game -- that's a big part of the enemy's perception model. They have what they can see, but also what they can hear. Visualizing what someone can hear, which is a weird thing to think about, is tricky, right? Most games don't bother, or like, there will be a "Ring!" in the world or something. We wanted to make it really really explicit, so that any time a noise is made in the game that the enemies can hear, we literally put an effect on the screen that's this big blue expanding ring that goes out the distance that's how far the noise is going to travel. So you break a light, this thing comes out of it ... So it's like more of a visualization then. I see how the two-dimensional aspect of it makes it so it's much more of that kind of visualization rather than relying (strictly) on spatial aspects. That sounds really interesting, like a nice twist on the formula. Right. Because it's in 2D ... I don't know how you could visualize that in 3D, it'd be like a big, weird dome or something. Anyhow, because it's more abstract you have a little more space to play around with there. Part of the reason I like stealth games is that you can play very intentionally. That's what those games are about. Fundamentally, you're undetected and the world is just kind of running. It's up to you to poke and perturb it as you see fit. Which means you end up formulating plans, "I'm gonna go over here, then this guy is going to react and start walking this way, so then I can go over because now he's over there, blah blah blah." But to get to that point, you have to have a pretty good understanding of how all the systems of the game are working.  So it's kind of like, let's just get people to that as quickly as we can -- not to make the game easy, but we wanted to make an understanding of those core fundamental stealth system just a tool you have at your disposal along with the grappling hooks and smoke bombs and stuff like that. So it's like, these are things I can use to play and to solve these problems in ways I personally find interesting. That was a major design objective where we didn't want to make the game seem like puzzles where you have to find the "one" solution -- the only solution that works. It was very very edifying because we had to playtest the everliving hell out of this. We did more playtesting on this -- by order of magnitude -- than any other game we've made ever. Which is good, but it was edifying near the end, when one of my buddies was playing it; he's not a developer but just a good friend of mine who plays a goodly amount of games. When he played it he was like, "When I finished that bit, it felt like there were lots of other things I could've done." So, hopefully there are lots of other people who feel that way because that was sort of the goal. It's like, "Here are these tools you have your disposal. Use them as you wish." It seems like Dishonored is coming at that from kind of a similar point. It seems like Harvey [Smith] and Raph [Colantonio] and I come from a similar place -- really intentional play, player empowerment, and all of that. "Here's how stuff works. Use it as you see fit." So then, what is learning curve as far as level progression goes? Is it going to be pretty quickly that you're given a lot of tools, or ... ? It's definitely not the case that two levels in you've got everything. Things get more and more doled out. From the first two or three levels, you get the core things you're going to get. The way we approached the game, there aren't like explicit easy, medium and hard settings. When all of the enemies die in one hit because you're sneaking up and stabbing them, you can't just give them more hit points, it doesn't work, right? So instead, what we ended up doing is that every level has three sets of explicit optional goals. They're totally optional but they kind of encourage you to experiment with other mechanics systems in the game that you might not come into if you're just playing it straight ... So what's an example of these kinds of optional goals? One thing might be "Get from point A in this level to point B without ever breaking a light." Other ones are like "Find a way to terrify this guard using this particular item." Oh I see, so those kind of specific stealth goals ... Yes. Some of them are broadly, "Any time in the level, do this" while others are more specifically "in this chunk of a level, do a thing." So those are what we call the "Seals." There are also ... every level has three hidden scrolls ... The game does have explicit levels with a start and end point, it's not like a full, open, totally connected Metroidvania thing -- but there is a good amount of branching and diversity in the paths within any particular level, sort of to reward being explorative ... Explora-tative? Exploring ... Uh ... (laughs) To do more exploration, every level has three of these hidden scrolls in it which kind of tell some of the backstory in an audio log sort of way. Except they're all written in haiku, which I think is totally awesome. And then every level has point-scoring tiers, "For one star ..." so to speak, this many points then that many points, etc. Even in designing that, I wanted to make sure there wasn't a dominant play style in terms of how the game rates your performance. Because that's basically what points do no matter how you gussy it up or change it. When the game gives you points for doing a thing, that's basically the game saying you did the "right thing." I thought it very important that we didn't bias the game toward one particular play style or another. So whenever you stealth kill an enemy, you receive an amount of points but by the end of the level, for whatever enemy you didn't kill you could potentially receive a similar amount of points. You aren't penalized for trying to play the game a single way.  It ends up being, "Approach this thing in the way you find it interesting ..." not "Do it this way because that's the way we point you to ..." Right, so then what is the main storyline? I haven't really ... Yeah, we haven't been talking about the story a lot just because mechanically there's so much to explain up to this point, but we definitely want to talk about it from this point going forward. The high-level is you're part of a ninja clan that has survived until the modern day. Obviously back during Japan's warring states period ninjas really existed but after that they sort of ... they went back to farming or whatever. We had this notion that there was one clan that survived and the did it because they found this strange flower. And what this flower does is, it can be ground up and made into tattoo ink. And whenever someone receives tattoos they get strange powers. It's nothing like ninja magic supernatural powers, more like height of human possibility -- like you're an Olympic athlete in fifteen events. But what they also unfortunately discovered is that anyone who receives these tattoos is also slowly driven insane.  So they end up ritualizing this so someone only receives these tattoos in times of great crisis, like when the clan's very survival is threatened. And then after the clan's survival is assured, whatever champion is selected is asked to ritually kill themselves to ensure they don't become a danger to the clan. Of course, the game opens with you -- the player character -- being the one selected to receive the tattoos because the clan is facing those times of crisis. So that's kind of the narrative thrust that carries through the game. So will that play into the story itself, like as far as when you get further in the levels will the tattoos sort of affect you at all, or can you talk about that ...? Obviously, I don't want to get into pure spoiler territory, but we very intentionally made the decisions we did with respect to all of that stuff. It's not like just a throw-away, "This in a cut scene!" sort of thing. It certainly plays to ... games like Shank and Shank 2 are super pulp, they're like a Rodriguez/Grindhouse action game, which they're totally what they're supposed to be, but with this, we wanted to have something still very stylized but with a little more dramatic heft. With the mechanics and game dynamics and narrative and the tone, all that stuff fit together very nicely. That core power dynamic in stealth games is about this interplay between strength and weakness. When I'm in my element, I'm strong, I'm powerful -- but when I'm not, I'm also very vulnerable and exposed. That's what that whole tattoos thing are about; it gives you all these abilities, but ultimately at this great, terminal cost. So it's like, let's make sure all this stuff points in this good, cohesive direction. [Mark of the Ninja comes out on Xbox Live Arcade on September 7 and may possibly later arrive on PC.]
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I've always had a complicated relationship with stealth games. On the one hand, I love sneaking around and plotting out how I'm going to take out every enemy in a given room. On the other, I get frustrated easily when a game ...


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