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Don't Starve Dev On Its 'Espionage XCOM' Incognita

Knowing Is Half The Battle

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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? 

[pullquote]In Incognita, we want information to be power.[/pullquote]

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.

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