Invisible, Inc. programmer discusses design, stealth, and procedurally-generated stages

Klei has brought Invisible, Inc. out from the shadows today. To learn more about the studio's latest stealth game, Shacknews spoke to programmer/technical designer James Lantz.

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The future is not a bright one, in developer Klei's eyes. The creators of Don't Starve and Mark of the Ninja returned today with their latest effort, a squad-based stealth game set in a dystopian future where corporations rule over all. This is a world where one spy agency fights for freedom.

That's the setup for Invisible, Inc, which released on PC earlier today. To learn more about Klei's latest effort, Shacknews spoke to technical designer/programmer James Lantz about the game's design, its randomly-generated stages, and also the studio's approach to stealth, particular given the lofty heights set with Mark of the Ninja.

Shacknews: For those that are just learning about this game for the first time, how would you describe Invisible, Inc?

James Lantz, technical designer/programmer: Invisible, Inc is a procedural, turn-based game of tactical espionage. You take control of multiple agents and try to rebuild your agency by looting corporate megacomplexes using stealth and hacking. The game is about gathering information, observing the situation and executing your plans quickly and quietly.

Shacknews: This game spent a good amount of time in Steam Early Access? How did the game progress during that period? What's changed the most between then and launch?

Lantz: Yeah, we've been in Early Access for about 9 months at this point. The game has changed a whole lot with community feedback. I'd say the biggest changes have been in scope of content and replayability features like extensive campaign generation options but the community has also helped us out a lot with balance changes and tutorialization.

Shacknews: From a design standpoint, how did the game's stealth mechanics evolve to what they are now?

Lantz: The game started out with a lot more combat in the mix, initially there were things like tons of weapons, hit percentage changes, critical hits, health points and so on. But we felt that the extensive combat focus was overwhelming a lot of our stealth, so we removed a lot of those random features and replaced them with dependable options that you could plan around and mix in with your sneaking. By switching away from combat and focusing more on a comprehensive stealth experience, we're able to deliver a game that's more about planning and execution than it is about odds and randomness.

Shacknews: Invisible, Inc features randomly generated stages. How do you feel this made the game better and were there any downsides to designing a stealth game in this manner?

Lantz: Procedurally-generated levels are the heart and soul of Invisible, Inc. So much of the game is built on spending your resources to gather information about what you're up against, so having a new level to explore each time gives the game replayability without compromising the stealth and discovery. The only downside of this system is that it took an incredible amount of effort to design both the procedural generation and the stealth system in a way that kept it fun and interesting without being too predictable.

Shacknews: You took something of a different route with Invisible, Inc's launch. Rather than keep the game on Steam Early Access and keep it active until the final build was released, you removed Early Access build a month prior to that date. What led to this decision?

Lantz: As we got closer to launch we started to get more confidence about our design decisions and our constructive feedback from the community, and we didn't want to bring new people into the game when it was too close to launch to make massive changes, but while it was still not quite ready to launch -- so they would still have to go through beta tutorialization and an unpolished initial experience.

Shacknews: Can you describe how integral player feedback was to creating this 1.0 build? Was there a player-requested feature that the team felt absolutely had to be a part of the game at launch?

Lantz: Player feedback was totally crucial to the 1.0 build of Invisible. Many of the game modes exist entirely because of player feedback, and it was because of the community that we made massive changes were made to the Endless and other difficulty modes. In fact, the entire idea of customiziable campaign options is due in large part to community feedback.

Shacknews: This isn't Klei's first time diving into stealth. Many recognize the name for Mark of the Ninja. What elements of that game helped with the design of Invisible, Inc? And were there any aspects of Mark of the Ninja that you specifically wanted to avoid when designing this game?

Lantz: Having Mark of the Ninja under our belts was invaluable in designing Invisible, Inc -- I'm not sure we could have built this game if we didn't have Mark of the Ninja to build off. Invisible, Inc is a very different game than Mark of the Ninja, but our experience helped us solve tons of stealth design problems more quickly and confidently in this new setting. We didn't really copy any features directly from Mark of the Ninja, but it gave us a strong toolkit to make a different kind of stealth game -- one aspect in particular was making sure the guards' intentions were transparent and readable. The game is different enough from Mark of the Ninja that we weren't really worried about avoiding any aspects of Mark of the Ninja specifically, though.

Shacknews: In what ways do you hope to support Invisible, Inc in the future after its launch?

Lantz: Initially, we want to support it via bugfixes and other stability or balance issues. In the long run, it'll depend on what the demand for content looks like and what kind of content the community is interested in.


Invisible, Inc is available now on PC.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
    • reply
      May 12, 2015 12:32 PM

      I played quite a bit of this in early access, but i was left unimpressed. Levels are confusing and I could never quite balance exploration with the damn doom clock.
      I think it was counter intuitive.
      Stealth by nature warrants steady, slow progress. I don't think you should be worried about a timer while sneaking.
      Also, I found the game to have less stealth elements and geared more to the action side. This may have been fixed as the dev stated.
      I found this game to be aesthetically cool, but weak in overall delivery. Not like Mark of the Ninja at all. That was a pleasure to play (even with a few annoyances).

      • reply
        May 12, 2015 3:08 PM

        You played it before it was done, and there were balance issues. Doesn't that mean you should give it another shot?

      • reply
        May 12, 2015 4:41 PM

        There is a timer? Fuck that

        • reply
          May 12, 2015 4:51 PM

          Not exactly. The enemy awareness goes up after each turn, so it's in your best interest to work fast.

      • reply
        May 12, 2015 5:29 PM

        The ui was quite dense 6mo+ ago. On release I have no problems except for flipping between the hack and real world views. The focus is very heavily stealth over combat so it plays closer to a puzzle game.

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