Invisible, Inc. is Klei Entertainment’s next big venture after releasing Don’t Starve just shy of a year ago. Drawing from some of the stealth aspects of their hit game Mark of the Ninja, the developers are looking to tackle turn-based tactics with espionage and corporate conspiracy themes, rather than the mystical natures of ninja. We last saw the game eight months ago at PAX Prime and have been eager to see it since then. I talked with designer Jason Dreger about changing the game’s name, stealth in a tactics game, when the game might be coming to Steam and more at PAX East 2014. Read on for all the juicy details.

Can you tell me a little bit about the basic premise of the game and what has changed since showing Invisible, Inc. at PAX Prime?

So when we started it we knew we wanted to make a stealth game, like a stealth tactics game — tactical espionage as we call it. It’s really easy to put a lot of combat features into a tactical game, even if you mean it to be stealth; I feel like it is probably overdone. So we’ve been spending a few months trying to really double down on stealth. The current build that we are working on is even more extreme in the stealth aspect [than the playable build at PAX East]. Things like there is no more health, one hit and you are down. We are really focusing in on that and seeing if we can push it that far.

Is the one hit and you’re down concept something you are working on for a hardcore mode or is it something you are working on to try and make part of the base experience, or is that too unforgiving?

Well, that is what we are working on right now. What can we get away with? How much can we push it into just stealth so that it’s really good? If, of course, it was too punishing we would pull it back, but if it was working we would want to work that into the base level and that would be like the game. If we were going to make a hardcore mode or an easy mode we’d deviate from there, but right now we are trying to settle on what the base game is.

Last time I saw the game it was known as Incognita. Now it is Invisible, Inc. Can you tell me about the rebranding of the game?

Sure, so whenever we would talk about it with our friends and media 80% of the time they would forget what the name was. They’d be like, “What is it that you’re working in?” and we’d have to remind them. The other 20% that would remember would say something like “Incognito” or something similar so it was just too much trouble that we were dealing with in marketing to get that straight. Coming up with a name that was easier for people to remember was important for us.

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What is the background and lore behind Invisible, Inc. right now?

So Incognita is still in the game. It’s this artificial intelligence. It’s this dystopian, corporate future and you’re working for an agency that is investigating the corporations, and it’s been really hard to get in. You get this message that’s from the inside; someone has information they want to give you. So you bust in and you rescue them, but it turns out it’s this hard drive, this AI, and you install it and it takes over your base computer. It’s sort of holding you hostage and telling you it knows how to deal with the corporations and it is sending you on these missions to complete its main mission. That is the start of the game.

So it is a little Skynet in a way?

Yeah! Maybe it has a little Skynet in a way and similarities to it.

What is the main objective in the game as of right now?

The main objective is really to keep progressing from map-to-map. How you do that can be up to you. Generally stealth will be the least resource-intensive way to do it. Each corporation you face will be a complex of a number of floors and each floor has an exit so you are moving toward it to get to the next floor. When you reach the top floor of the complex there will be a sub-mission goal that will dismantle the corporation [immediately]; the game is you have to dismantle three corporations and as you dismantle a corporation its assets get assimilated by its brothers. So, the [corporations] ahead of you get stronger as you go.

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Who are you playing as you go through the game and what are the main things you will be doing while you are going floor-by-floor of these corporations?

There are two layers: the real world and…the mainframe mode. In the real world you’ve got physical agents, two to three guys that you are sending around in the buildings. They’re looking for safes that have money and items they can use to level themselves up and get further ahead, but they are also looking for computers that will give you CPU points. In the mainframe mode, you, back at base with the help of Incognita, are hacking through cameras using CPU points to break through firewalls. Sometimes the enemy will install programs in the mainframe which you will also have to break into. So if you want to get a safe, you’ll have to get one of your agents up to a CPU system and hack it, then in mainframe mode back at base you will have to break the locks on the safe and then the agent will get up to it and steal the stuff out of it. So it’s sort of a the agents on the floor are helping you in the mainframe which is helping the agents on the floor.

How large is your cast of characters? It is a turn-based game? Are you going to have four to five people on your team, or is it more like two to three? How big is the scale of Invisible, Inc. in that regard?

Right now in the build we are working on you start with two agents and you can find other agents within the map. Those ones will work for you for a fee, so each floor you’ll have to pay them a sort of upkeep cost. Generally, three is a good number; [at] four it starts to become too much and too expensive to maintain. Two is okay; it’s doable with one but it is kind of a rush. There is actually a challenge on our forums right now where James, one of our designers, put out this one agent challenge. It’s kind of fun!

What are the main skills of agents? Like you said earlier, you are going away from combat, but what can they do? Are they equipped with guns or proficient in melee combat? How are you handling this in Invisible, Inc.?

Since we made Mark of the Ninja, we have that as a background to draw upon. So like the idea of a takedown, if your agent moves up behind enemy guards and they don’t know you are there you can take them down with a 100% knockout. While they are on the ground you can pin them down and the guards won’t recover. When your agents leave the guards will recover, so you have to balance whether you will use one of your agents to hold a guy down or leave and lock doors behind them. Other abilities you have are your robots have like a wireless hacking ability. While regular agents actually have to walk up to a console to hijack it, the wireless guy can do it through walls and over a distance. There are also actually items you can get in the game called augments, which you find in special safes and they eat up parts of your inventory, you actually permanently use them on your character, and they give you these really strong combo abilities. So for example you have one on a guy and you hack something in the mainframe, he’ll get a boost in movement, so you can time when you hack stuff to when you want to make a move through the level faster. Another possibility is you might have one that gives you more CPU points when you hack.

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You said there is an inventory system in the game. For a lack of better terms, will loot be an important factor in the game and itemization of your character to get better gear or is this more of a system that is in the background of the game?

I’d say it is important, but it is sparse. The choices you make are big ones, like which pieces of equipment you are going to buy or keep are fairly significant because you don’t have that big of an inventory.

Is there going to be any other game modes for Invisible, Inc. or is it going to be single-player only? Will there be challenge maps or is that too far ahead?

I’d say the challenge map thing is too far ahead right now. Like I said, we are still in alpha and we are doubling down on the stealth to see if we can get it really good, which is why we are still in alpha. Once we feel like we have a good stealth core we’ll launch into beta, which will hopefully be in a month or two, and then we think the game will be launched by sometime at end of the year. If in that time we’ve really go things stable and we think of some cool game modes they might come in. Right now we are just focused on getting the single-player really good.

Last time I checked the alpha of this game was only available through the Klei Entertainment website. Will you be taking the game to Steam Early Access at all with this project?

When I said beta I’m talking about Steam Early Access; that is basically what beta is for us. So hopefully we’ll be going into that in a month or two and then at the end of the year we will launch fully.