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The Spy Who Loved U: An Interview with Curve Digital about Stealth Inc. 2

by Tyler Ohlew - October 7, 2014, 12:29 pm EDT
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The creators of Fluidity discuss just what makes their new Wii U game the sneak king.

During the development of WiiWare's Fluidity, Jonathan Biddle spent his lunch breaks toiling on another puzzle platformer. Curve Digital's Stealth Bastard was the result of those skipped meals, and was released on PCs in 2011. Later transformed into Stealth Inc. for the PlayStation family, the game cast players as a clone attempting to escape its birthplace (and also an evil testing ground for his abilities as a spy). Players make use of the shadows to keep the clone safe from a sarcastic, potty mouthed security system, one which projects teases and taunts on the walls around you. Despite being one of many, it's clear that no clone is allowed to leave the facility, with this outside force stopping at nothing to put an end to you.

Alongside upcoming releases like The Swapper and Lone Survivor, Curve Digital is bringing Steal Inc. 2 exclusively to the Wii U. Aiming for a release later this month, the game breaks free of the room to room progression we saw from its predecessor, and instead takes the Metroid route. Once again players take control of a clone, but this time around the building's entirety is your oyster (albeit one lined with death traps). The game's puzzle rooms become accessible as you explore your surroundings, unlocking as you obtain new gadgets.

We managed to force Curve Digital's PR Manager, Rob Clarke, out of the shadows to give us the latest on Stealth Inc. 2. You may play as a clone, but this sequel is certainly not a copy of what came before.

Nintendo World Report (NWR): How long after the completion of Stealth Inc.: A Clone In The Dark did the studio decide to move forward with this sequel?

Rob Clarke (RC): Not very long at all - after we finished Stealth Inc on PlayStation, we spent some time working on some exclusive DLC on the system, followed by an iPad version. We then wrote a few updates to the PC version. Very shortly after that we started working with Nintendo, so there was probably only a few months between the launch of Stealth Inc on PlayStation and the start of work on Stealth Inc 2.

NWR: What couldn't be expressed in the first game that lead to the creation of Stealth Inc. 2?

RC: I don’t think there was much that we couldn’t express, so much as some things we wanted to expand upon or give more focus. For example, the story in Stealth Inc 1 was fun and interesting, but the best bits were right at the end of the game and as a difficult game, not that many people actually reached the end! For Stealth Inc 2, you get the story delivered to you in cutscenes throughout the game, which makes it much easier for us to build a world. There’s lot of areas of Stealth Inc 2 like that, where we take things we liked from the original, expand and refine them.

NWR: Did the Metroid-like overworld come as a need to expand upon the previous game, or was it something you had always intended to do as far back as Stealth Bastards on PC?

RC: It was never planned way back in the original, but it’s definitely come about because of the reaction to it. A lot of the test chambers are exciting and tense but sometimes when you have to go through that, time and time again, it can get tiring even if you’re adding in new mechanics every time. The overworld was our response to that – it means the game has quieter moments in-between all the action, and it gives the world a lot more scope and detail that we couldn’t really portray in a series of smaller levels.

NWR: In terms of difficulty, what order do you build the challenge rooms in? Is it difficult to go back to constructing "easy" stages after you've built the massive late-game stages we saw at the end of the first Stealth Inc.?`

RC: We roughly do things in order, so as a general rule the later test chambers are indeed completed later in the development. It’s not too hard to go back to simpler test chambers, but one thing we’ve found is as our level designers make levels, they get better and smarter at using the tools and mechanics they have. That means that we’ll finish off some later levels and realise just how much we could then go back and polish and tweak the early levels. It’s cool to be able to do that, but there also has to be a point where you accept the game is ready to be played!

NWR: In regards to co-op, you told NintendoLife that a gadget in the game allows players to create a second playable character. Is this gadget available early on?

RC: It’s somewhere towards the middle of the game. The thing with that is, the point of the co-op isn’t really about just adding another player. We looked into doing co-op that was all about having two clones, but there’s a difference between two people playing the game simultaneously and two people playing the game cooperatively. While you won’t always have two clones on the screen, you will always be involved in the other players decision as every gadget in the game is controlled and managed by one of the players.

NWR: You've mentioned that the completion rate of the first game has convinced you to include the sequel's plot twist much earlier on. Is there anything you learned to increase the amount of players who see the game to completion?

RC: The beauty of PC gaming and achievements is you can get a lot of metrics about what people are doing in your game. I think with what we’ve learned, it’s not always about trying to get everyone to finish the game so much as it’s about making sure those people are able to get the most out of it and are having fun. That’s why we constantly introduce new mechanics and new gadgets, right up towards the last section of the game and why those gadgets are a way more integral part of the game than they were in the original. There’s nothing worse in a game where you’ve done 30 levels and you know the only thing between you and the end is 30 more levels of the same old puzzles.

NWR: Is there any concern about releasing a sequel on the Wii U considering it isn't home to the original Stealth Inc.?

RC: Stealth Inc isn’t even the original game! Stealth has been on lots of different systems so far in its life, and if we didn’t make the jump from PC to console there’s a good chance we wouldn’t ever worked on another system, so we’re not afraid to try out new formats and audiences at all. We’ve made the game from the ground-up from the Wii U, and it lets us do exciting things with the hardware we couldn’t do on a multi-format game.

NWR: In the first game, gadgets were unlocked for use in subsequent playthroughs of completed stages. This time, they're used to navigate the over world. Does this imply that the gadgets can be used in the puzzles, without first completing a "vanilla" run?

RC: The way it works now is that you’ll get a new gadget in each of the game’s five areas. When you pick up a gadget, the next set of tests will be all about using the gadget to solve puzzles, so you’re fully utilizing all the gadgets you have throughout the game. This adds a ton of variety and it means gadgets are more than just an optional element like they were in the original. After you finish those puzzles, you’ll unlock the gadget to use in the overworld, so there’s no such thing as a vanilla run in this version of the game.

NWR: On the topic of the gadgets, how are they obtained exactly? And will any from the previous game make an appearance?

RC: We count the goggles as a gadget, so one of them makes a comeback! We’re also using a version of Teleporters in the game as well, which some players may be familiar with from our Teleporter Chambers DLC. Everything else is brand new though. We’ve tried really hard to come up with clever gadgets, ones that people don’t expect. We’ve shown many of them in action now but we’ve still got a few surprises up our sleeves!

NWR: I'm excited to see Jonathan and the team return to a Metroid-like game after the remarkable work on Fluidity. Many claim inspiration by the Metroid series, but so few pull it off. What do you believe is most important when designing this type of game?

RC: We claim inspiration from a ton of places. Metroid is the one we’ve probably mentioned most as I think as gamers we see ‘Metroidvania’ as a genre, or at least a mechanic. The team have also been inspired by games like Oddworld and Flashback – classic platformers that integrate lots of different mechanics to keep puzzles fresh, or create and develop a story through the environment.

NWR: When a game is likened to Metroid, one's mind can instantly turn to speed runs and sequence breaking. While I expect the former, are sequence breaks something you foresee happening?

RC: We’re really interested to see what tricks people will come up with – one of the cool things about the speed running community is no matter how much you think you know the game, there will always be people who come up with unexpected ways around the games system. We hope at least to provide a very strong challenge for people looking for sequence breakers in the overworld.

NWR: If the need is there, will players be able to make notes or leave markers on the in-game map?

RC: You can’t note on the map itself – but the map will always tell you roughly where you should be heading for the next text chamber. We want exploration to be interesting and optional, not a frustrating experience for people who want to move to the next test chamber.

NWR: The GamePad's touch screen interface suits a level editor well. How do you intend to entice players to create their own stages? Through Miiverse, is Curve able to promote and highlight specific works?

RC: The best way to entice people to make levels is to make the tool accessible and powerful. Those are two very different things of course, but luckily as you say, the GamePad is the perfect control system for a level editor. You can create simple levels very quickly, and while it obviously takes much longer of you to make something like what you might see in the later stages of the actual game, it’s very possible that you can do that. Levels can be ranked in the game, so players looking for the best experiences won’t have to spend a long time searching for quality content.

NWR: I see that rankings are still intact, as well as hidden collectibles. S-ranks and the hidden helixes unlocked new stages in the first game. Do they do the same this time around?

RC: We don’t want to say too much about the secrets! The overworld lets us be very sneaky with secrets and collectables, so while the format has changed a bit from the original game there’s a still a LOT to discover for the dedicated player including over 20 different outfits you can discover from exploring the over world to give your clone the personal touch!

Thanks to Curve Digital for the interview!

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