Don’t Starve Dev On Its ‘Espionage XCOM’ Incognita

Klei has put marks on ninjas and avoided starvation (for now), and it’s all been pretty great. But now that all of that’s out in the open, what’s next? How do you follow gloriously precise stealth and maddeningly demented survival? Why, with turn-based tactical espionage, of course. Otherwise, there just wouldn’t be enough adjectives. I sat down with Klei co-founder Jamie Cheng for a brief chat about Icognita, which he’s billing as a more information-centric cousin to modern XCOM. Somewhat fittingly (though also frustratingly), he kept many details hidden away beneath his figurative trench coat, but we were able to discuss the broader strokes: espionage, the game’s upcoming paid alpha (ala Don’t Starve), procedural generation, and PC as the primary platform. Give the chat a quick read after the break.

RPS: So then, what’s Incognita all about? 

Cheng: Well, what I’ve been asking everyone is, based on your first impression [of an image that basically looks like the one up top], what kind of game do you think this is?

RPS: Based on the perspective, it looks tactical. There’s also a big grid, so I’m guessing turn-based tactical, ala XCOM. And the name Incognita makes it sound espionage-y, so is it centered around that sort of thing? 

In Incognita, we want information to be power.

Cheng: You are… frickin’ spot on. That’s exactly what it is: turn-based tactical espionage.

The game is already playable. We’re gonna do the same thing we did for Don’t Starve. People are gonna be able to play it early while it’s still in development [and offer feedback]. Don’t Starve was this weird experiment that blew up to be just amazing. We wanted to build a community. I knew that. And I wanted to work with them and talk with them all the time. Don’t Starve ended up a way better game because of the community.

So same thing. Incognita is again an evolving game. I think that a game like Mark of the Ninja would’ve been much harder to have the community involved. If players just had to replay the same level or something, I think that’d get pretty boring. And of course there’s the story, which would’ve gotten spoiled. So it’s a big difference.

But I think Incognita will work out much better.

RPS: So is Incognita a more emergent sort of game? Because games like XCOM aren’t quite as open and random as, say, Don’t Starve, but they’re close. Are you focusing on that element? 

Cheng: We’re using procedural generation again. It’s gonna be pretty raucous. It’s almost like we’re taking all the learnings from Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja, and making something new with it.

RPS: How exactly does espionage work in a turn-based setting? How is it different from simply positioning your forces and eliminating enemies, ala XCOM or Fire Emblem or others along those lines? 

Cheng: Well, we’re still keeping a lot under wraps right now, but I can say a little. Here’s the idea: if you play the new XCOM – which is a fucking amazing game – it’s 90 percent positioning. Ten percent information gathering and 90 percent positioning. It’s kind of like, “I sort of wonder where the enemy is, but if I position myself well, march forward, and re-position myself well, then I’ll mostly be fine.”

The idea behind Incognita is, we want information to be power. We want information to be a very key part of your experience.

RPS: Do you control multiple operatives in the field? Just one? 

Cheng: I can’t say a lot more right now. Just give us a bit more time.

RPS: Hm, OK then. What’s the dev team structure like? Is it a mix of Mark and Don’t Starve folks?

Cheng: They are a lot of the Mark of the Ninja group, so it’s actually been in development for quite some time now. It was parallel with [Don’t Starve].

RPS: When will the open alpha launch? Sounds like it’ll be pretty soon.

Cheng: We’re thinking it’s gonna be late in the summer. But it’s really when we feel like it’s ready, at least for feedback. As opposed to, “This game’s just broken, man”. We’re gonna make sure it’s pretty polished.

RPS: You showed me a picture on iPad, but is PC the main platform? 

Cheng: PC is the primary platform, yeah. It’s just easier to carry around an iPad. It’s definitely a PC game. I don’t know if we’re gonna support it right off the bat, but we’re gonna do Mac, and we hope to support Linux.

RPS: Thank you for your time.


Top comments

  1. nimzy says:

    It seems like the TF2 spy has no shortage of work these days.
  1. Evilopoly90 says:

    Certainly looks intresting. But no deal until I can name an operative Snake and shout “Snake? SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!” at the top of my lungs after he dies.

  2. almostDead says:

    Good grief, this is my favourite gaming company, I love their story and am so interested in what they do.

  3. ulix says:

    These guys are not only amazing developers, they also seem to be really nice people and great employers…

    Really looking forward to this, Klei is probably the best Indie developer right now.

  4. nimzy says:

    It seems like the TF2 spy has no shortage of work these days.

    • Shodex says:

      I don’t doubt that we’ll be seeing the TF2 spy show up in the Steam version of this game at launch or some short time after.

      • The Random One says:

        Well, we already have the Heavy in Don’t Starve. Wolfgang is a rather strange name for a Russian, though.

  5. Kollega says:

    The concept art style looks almost exactly like the style TF2 had back in 2007. I wonder if that style is going to appear anywhere in the game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I absolutely love the look of that top banner image. Dem rim highlights.

      While TF2’s a recent and obvious touchstone, honestly it makes me think more of Evil Genius, especially its loading screens.

  6. Anthile says:


  7. pakoito says:

    Cool cool cool.

  8. Choca says:

    I’m throwing money at my screen but nothing’s happening.

    Maybe I should throw more.

    • Choca says:

      I have now proceeded to bury my screen (and myself) under money.

      Send help.

      • Jeremy says:

        You’re trapped you say? And there is lots of money? Yeah… what’s your address, I’ll be right there.

      • vecordae says:

        Artfully done, choca! That was a riveting narrative that ended in my loud, uncouth guffaw at the thought of another human being’s misfortune.

        Seriously, though, you need to cut a slot into your monitor or else the money has no way to get to the devs.

  9. Noviere says:

    This is very exciting!

  10. lowprices says:

    Another game to be excited about? Just stop it, pc developers. I’m having trouble keeping up. Also buying All The Games is expensive. Just stop for a year or so.

    Pretty please?

  11. Cryptoshrimp says:

    Woah, Klei is really a creative storm. I loved Don’t Starve, and this sounds great as well. From this interview I gather they’ve got different teams working on separate problems, that’s interesting for an indie studio.

    • Subject 706 says:

      Seconded. I’ve loved all their games so far, really impressive that this team manages to create such diverse games that are consistently good.

  12. Unrein says:

    God I love the smell of Creative Freedom Brought On By Financial And Critical Success in the morning.

  13. markside says:

    I am Mark Of The Ninja.

    • povu says:

      Hello Mark. I’m looking forward to the DLC you’ll be getting. Some time soon, I hope?

      • markside says:

        Can’t say at the moment, I’m afraid. Too busy terrorising dudes. You know how it is.

  14. Hilden2000 says:

    Can I poison water coolers? Seduce secretaries? put security cameras on loops? Suspend myself above laser traps? Spend my time units wisely enough to lockpick an office, hack its computer, then slip back out and relock the door with no one none the wiser?

    I hope so, especially that first one.

  15. Jack--Dandy says:

    Ohhhh.. Last turn-based stealth game I played was Metal Gear AC!D 2.. And I really liked that one! It actually can be lots of fun.

    Will keep my eye on this one.

  16. AlwaysRight says:

    Top comment!?!?

    What the hell is this new fangled technology!?

    I fear change.

    • abandonhope says:

      You Luddite. It’s already two days old.

    • GameCat says:

      Nooooooooo. Please stop. What’s next? Upvotes/downvotes? 5 star rating? Microtransactions? Day one DLC? Zombies? Modern multiplayer shooter? P2W?

    • LionsPhil says:

      My main concern is on how it’s selected, since at the moment it seems totally random. I’m just waiting for one of the spambots to get it.

      Edit: Oh god, now all the comments are top comments.

  17. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Take my money.

  18. PegasusOrgans says:

    Too many great games harkening back to my beloved once-dead genres!
    Turn based is back, big time which makes sense, since zombies are
    so huge nowadays. Undead gaming genres, got a nice ring to it.