These days, Curve might be best known for their work in bringing a string of indie titles to PlayStation, but what’s sometimes easy to forget is that these guys make their own games too. Stealth Inc. née Bastard has been a big hit for the company, and now it’s getting a sequel later in 2014.
It’s also exclusive to the Wii U.
“We always look at faces, when we tell people that,” said Curve Studios Managing Director, Jason Perkins, as we sat down to discuss this sequel.
It’s certainly an interesting move from Curve, but one that ties back to their history. Having worked closely with Nintendo on Fluidity, also known as Hydroadventure, Jason explained, “We’re in regular contact with those guys and they originally wanted Stealth Inc. and wondered if there was a chance they could get an exclusive on that, but we were too far down the line with Sony.
“We then gave them an opportunity and said, ‘Look, the game’s been a huge success with a million downloads, so we’re obviously going to do a sequel.’ It’s at that point that they said they’d love to work with us. For us, it’s then an opportunity to go onto a store where there isn’t a lot of content, and so there’s the opportunity to still do commercially quite well.”
When I pushed about the specifics of the deal, whether it was a timed exclusive or something broader, Jason was a little cagier. “We’re definitely going Wii U first, at the moment,” he said, indicating that other platforms could appear at some point in the future, but as Jonathan “Bidds” Biddle cut in, Curve’s Design Director and the man behind the game so far, this is also about focussing on the Wii U version and Gamepad-based gameplay.
The original Stealth Bastard came as a free download, but given the success and positive reception, was then rewritten from the ground up as it became Stealth Bastard Deluxe, which is the game that has since appeared as Stealth Inc.
“What we’ve done for the Wii U version,” revealed Bidds, “I’ve basically taken the code that I made for the original one and made a sequel. I’ve been able to come up with ideas, try them out really quickly, build some levels around them and hone in really quickly.
“Because it’s in the Game Maker environment, it’s really fast to iterate, so we can perfect it before we get it anywhere near the console. We’ve made most of the gameplay now, and then we’re going to start porting it to the console, which is what we did the first time too.”
Out of this iterative process, with Bidds the sole force behind it, have come some rather fascinating sounding changes to the formula that was so popular in the first. For one thing, although the test chambers are still a major part of the game, they exist as part of larger world.
“What we’re doing [in Stealth Inc. 2],” Bidds revealed, “is keeping the test chamber gameplay that we had and the stuff the series is known for, but we’ve got a story in there now, with this clone that escapes the test chamber and out into the facility at large. So you have these test chambers, but outside of them there’s a Metroid-style game where you get to explore the facility.
“We want to make the story a bigger focus, and when you come to the exploration are you’ll find out more about what’s going on and the outside workings of the corporation. Each section is testing a different gadget and building these into the Metroid structure to the game.
“You have this different tempo where you’re doing the test chambers and it’s really quite intense, but then you come out and there’s more for you to do and look around and find, more story based stuff.”
Part of the driving force behind this change was this desire to break up the play and the sustained level of intense concentration as well as pushing a more cohesive story to the fore. Having said that, there will be an option to play just the test chambers, still with the same rankings and time attack elements that helped make the first so addictive.
Bidds said, “We know what worked well [in the first game] and want to keep those as they were, but we want to make sure that the things that led to people getting burnt out or frustrated don’t, we want to introduce something that really helps them.
“The gameplay is built around these really short loops of puzzle solving a dextrous challenges. If you make a mistake, you’re instantly killed and put back a short distance, so you’re not frustrated that much, but you’re constantly on the top of your game and thinking about what exactly you’re doing. So if you keep that up for an hour or two hours, it really drains you and you just want to put it down.”
Of course, as a Wii U exclusive, some form of Gamepad-specific functionality would be included to help it stand apart from the first game. However, rather than bringing it into the single-player, Bidds revealed that it had a distinctly co-operative focus.
“When you decide you want to play the co-op mode,” Bidds explained, “you pass the Gamepad to the second player and you continue to play with a Wiimote and the TV. The person on the Gamepad then assists you, using various special abilities that they’ve got using the touch screen and other Gamepad stuff, but we’re not detailing that right now.
“The entire game can be played through on your own or with a second player, and when you play with a second player it changes the experience completely. It’s an extra layer that gets added onto the game.”
At this stage, the Bastard name is gradually fading into the past, and certainly won’t reappear on consoles, but as I’m busy pitching amusing titles – Stealth Buggery or Stealth: Second Bastard, if you were wondering – I also asked if they missed the title.
“It was a kind of double edged sword, because some people hear it and they laugh, but some people will actually disregard the game because it sounds a bit juvenile.”
Rob Clarke, Curve’s PR and Marketing Manager, chipped in as he said, “It sounds like the name is there because there is no game and you’ve got a funny name because you’ve got nothing else going on.”
“But we’ve actually got a decent game,” Bidds concluded, “so we want people to focus on the game and it helps with that.”
While the decision to develop Stealth Inc. 2 as Wii U exclusive is sure to be quite a controversial one, and one that locks the game away from a large portion of its former audience, there’s some quite major changes coming to the gameplay that I find particularly intriguing.
Bringing a story to the fore is certainly a nice idea, and always an interesting proposition when you have clones in play, but I feel that it’s the Metroidvania overworld and the Gamepad functionality’s co-operative focus and superset of the gameplay that will really help this stand on its own to feet, rather than feeling like the original game has been… cloned.
Thanks to Jason, Bidds and Rob for taking the time to chat to us about Stealth Inc. 2. We’ll have more from Curve and their upcoming games over the next few days.