By Nathan Grayson on January 23rd, 2014 at 1:00 pm.
It’s been nearly a week since Klei ROCKED THE HEADLINES by changing its turn-based strategy stealth game’s name from Incognita to Invisible, Inc. “What could it possibly mean?” nearly every human on Earth pondered simultaneously. Then they all caught the hidden pun, embedded with a deadly precision, and chuckled in perfect harmony. With that blanket of sound covering their actions, Klei quickly slipped all sorts of new features into the rechristened game before anybody even knew what hit them. They thought they got away with it, but I knew what was up. I tracked designers James Lantz and Jason Dreger back to Klei’s secret cyber-noir rooftop lair and forced them to divulge secrets about the new name, the game’s (some would say) too-high difficulty, plans for upping replayability, how much content will be in the final game, and when Klei’s hoping to release it for real. All that and more is below.
RPS: First off, why the name change? Incognita was a pretty solid title. Why switch to Invisible Inc? Will there eventually be a prequel called Invisible Inc University?
Klei: As cool as Incognita was, there were a lot of times people would get it wrong in the media or people would struggle to remember exactly what it was. We would get lots of “what’s the name again? ‘In’ something?”. We wanted an easier name to remember and say, and when we talked to our close friends in the industry and other tactics fans, we found them far more likely to ask more about our game using Invisible, Inc.
The biggest challenge to making a tactics stealth game is providing interesting options beyond combat.
RPS: What are the biggest points of feedback you’re getting from players so far? What are you focusing most on changing?
Klei: The thing we get the most noise on is frustration with the procedural level generation and an uneven difficulty curve. So that’s where a lot of our focus will be as we go ahead now. The procedural level generation in particular will be continually improved until we’re happy with it.
RPS: Your approach to difficulty is definitely interesting, but some players aren’t entirely on board with it. Why did you pick this specific approach? Are you considering maybe offering multiple pre-set difficulty levels in addition to it?
Klei: We made the game difficult because we wanted Invisible Inc to be about learning the underlying systems instead of learning the content or levels. Even though a single successful playthrough will be fairly short, it will take many plays to have the skill and knowledge to make it to the end. We want to tap into that fun learning process that begins with wide-eyed wonder and ends with mastery of the game’s systems and total confidence in your abilities.
We will be continuing to tweak difficulty throughout development to give players the most satisfying learning process and to keep the game from being overly frustrating on the first couple plays.
RPS: How does the new between-playthroughs metagame work? How are you planning to expand it?
Klei: As you play, you’ll unlock new opportunities in the game, such as new teams of agents to start with, new items that can appear in the levels or new skills they may be able to learn. Unlocking items and skills only gives the player the chance to find them, so these unlocks don’t make the player strictly stronger from the get go.
RPS: You’re obviously trying to emphasize stealth at this point, which is quite different from most turn-based tactical games. How are you planning to get players into that mindset? Is it mainly the monetary incentive for not killing people? What about incentives for other parts of the stealth equation – for instance not being seen, etc? And what about ways to make stealth more fun as opposed to only more monetarily rewarding?
Klei: The biggest challenge to making a tactics stealth game is providing interesting options beyond combat. When we first put stealth and combat into the game, it was much easier to beat everything with just combat. Because combat eliminates threats permanently we had to keep giving players incentives in order to make stealth a viable strategy. So we started to slowly add more and more reasons to play stealthily instead of violently. We made ammo an expensive and precious resource. We made sure that violent combat didn’t reward the player with experience or items and instead consumed player resources. And we made it so that killing enemies raised an alarm which eventually sends more enemies into the level.
Even with all those penalties to combat and incentives to be stealthy, combat is still a viable option in the game and often the easiest way to get out of a particular situation. So that might give you an idea of how strong combat was in the beginning of development. Right now, the two styles are both viable, and we’re continuing to balance them to try to make it viable for players to play with any mix of stealth and combat they can think of.
To make stealth more fun, we’ve been adding more and more ways to manipulate guards. Now you can give them new interest points, distract them, sneak behind them, get them to turn around and so on. We’re going to continue giving the player more and more ways to manipulate guards as development continues, hopefully each addition will add a new layer of fun to the stealth in the game.
RPS: Do you think you’ll need to alter or add rewards for, say, exploring levels to offset the fact that taking as few risks as possible now offers a pretty large amount of money?
Klei: There will definitely be some number tuning for the stealth incentives in order to keep exploration desirable. Our goal is to make it so that your playstyle is an interesting and difficult choice and there is no one obviously right way to go about things.
RPS: Why randomize the game flow? Before, players got to decide which corporations they tackled, so the switch to full randomness was kind of a surprise.
Klei: Because of the nature of the game, it’s slowly been turning into a 20 to 30 hour game. Players can take a long time to think about a plan each level. Since we were aiming for an tighter experience of a successful run we wanted more control on the number of floors each corporation would take to complete. Also, we didn’t want players to settle into ruts of which team they choose and what order they tackle the corporations. The random flow will keep people exploring new play styles.
RPS: How has feedback on the new update been so far – the one that launched with the name change? Are you already putting together a list of things that might go into update 8? If so, what’s on it?
Klei: We are working hard to begin the beta, so our focus of Update 8 is get in the last systems we really want to test out. One of the more complex systems that we are working on adding is Psionics. It will provide a new layer of interaction between the agents and the guards and hopefully add a lot of depth to the systems already there.
RPS: How long do you think you’ll be doing Early Access for Invisible, Inc? Will it be comparable to Don’t Starve?
Klei: Our goal is to launch sometime this year, so yeah, similar to Don’t Starve. We’ve found the entire process of Early Access hugely beneficial to our development process to really test our theories, but we also like to release our games and keep experimenting with new design ideas.
RPS: How much content do you want in the game when it’s all said and done? Will a single playthrough (that is, finishing it once) be enough for most players, or do you think Invisible Inc’s main appeal hinges on its replayability?
Klei: We see two types of players for Invisible, Inc. One group will play the game 15 to 20 hours, become experienced enough to beat the game and then be satisfied. The other group will reach the same point but then carry on to beat the game with the many other different teams and team combo possibilities.
RPS: Are you planning mod support for Invisible, Inc to the same degree as with Don’t Starve? As in, on Steam Workshop and whatnot? If so, when do you think you’ll roll that out, and what all will you allow players to change, alter, and create?
Klei: We aren’t sure yet. It’s still too early in the project for us to make a call on that, unfortunately.
RPS: Thank you for your time.