Wow! It’s been a crazy week, huh? What’s that? Oh, worry not, enthusiast, for I have your weekly Q&A session firmly primed and prepared for mainline deliverance unto thy veins. Thine veins? Hmm, not sure. Anyhow, this week I spent a select few cuts of my time with Corey Rollins, everyone’s favorite Community Manager at Klei Entertainment. Klei recently launched the excellent Mark of the Ninja for Xbox 360, and, wow, has it ever received rave reviews. Hmm? Umm, it has frequently received them, yeah. It’s currently at a Metacritic rating of something obscene that may or may not surpass 90. I know, right? Read on!
Introduce yourself, Corey. Who are you, and what’s your role at Klei?
My name is Corey Rollins and I’m the Community Manager at Klei Entertainment. I also currently handle the majority of Klei’s in-house PR with press and fans. I get to wear a lot of hats at my job (which is awesome).
How did you get started in the industry?
I got my first taste the way most do, as a game tester. Like many kids, I grew up loving video games and the culture around them. My parents, while incredibly supportive of everything I did growing up, use to tease me a bit and had this comic on our fridge.
Funny thing is, it was through one of my mother’s co-workers that I managed to score a high school internship at Radical Entertainment (which made my friends incredibly jealous). I worked on the tail end of Simpsons Hit and Run and Dark Summit. Shortly after graduation I worked retail for about 6 months and left after finally getting a paid job doing QA at EA.
What’s a day in the life of a Community Manager like?
Honestly, it’s different every day at Klei and that’s what I love about it. You can safely bet I’m keeping watch on all of our social feeds and emails, but one day I could be doing photography, the next day I’m coding a website or planning PAX!
I’m responsible for all of our online contests, major announcements, newsletters and of course I’m usually the person answering your Facebook and Twitter questions. It bugs me when companies have one-sided social media and never respond to anyone. I make an effort to personally respond to every single question sent our way.
So, onto the company: Where does the name ‘Klei’ originate?
Klei is actually the Dutch word for “Clay”. Everyone always calls us “Klee.” Full disclosure: I did too until I landed an interview and was corrected during the interview. Not embarrassing at all!
At the start of the company, they were looking for unique names. Clay Entertainment was already taken, and not very search friendly. So a quick trip to an online translator revealed Klei is pronounced the same, and means the same thing.
What’s the development community like in Vancouver?
Vancouver has incredible talent. There are always tons of meetups, tweetups, game jams, expos and minglers going on. I love it. There’s a little friction on the political front when it comes to the gaming industry in Vancouver right now (It’s really expensive to live here), but the community here is so strong and supportive of each other. I have high hopes for the continued growth of the Vancouver game dev scene.
So, how was your first Indie Megabooth experience?
We’ve typically run our own booth before, but being in the Megabooth was great. The people organizing it were on the ball. This was my first PAX as an exhibitor, I’ve always gone as press. So, being tasked with planning the majority of our booth and trip was a bit daunting at first. Thankfully, the whole MegaBooth group was there to answer questions and share advice.
When the floor plan was released I wasn’t too happy that it looked like we kinda got stuffed in the back of PAX, but was surprised by the amount of traffic we actually got considering. Overall, a really positive experience for me that I would consider doing again for sure.
Klei’s latest project is Mark of the Ninja. Can you tell us more about it?
Mark of the Ninja is a side-scrolling stealth action game. You assume the role of a ninja who is tasked with the job of avenging his recently attacked clan. As the player, you can choose to be a deadly hunter, slaying with precision and silence, or a flitting shadow, leaving all completely unaware of your presence. Observe your enemies from afar, manipulate them with your tools, and execute your plan with precision. Approach challenges as you wish, but be careful — you’re as fragile as you are powerful.
What was the inspiration behind it?
I’m a huge fan of the original Tenchu series along with Theif. Most ninja games today seem to revolve around huge open battles and hacking and slashing. That’s not really what a true ninja should be about.
We made it in 2D partially because that’s kinda Klei’s wheelhouse. Plus, we feel there’s some things that are just easier to do – at least for us – in 2D. For example, when you make a noise an enemy could hear, we actually show you how far that sound has traveled. This way there’s no guessing about whether or not you’ve been heard.
The gameplay looks like classic Splinter Cell meets your own Shank: 2D platforming with plenty of sneak. Am I far off? What have you done to silence those who foundShank‘s combat too repetitive?
Mark of the Ninja is definitely a much different experience than Shank. It has some similar visual cues in terms of character art style, but that’s really where the similarities start to end. We did however take a LOT of feedback from fans of Shank and try to incorporate some of it into Mark of the Ninja. Since Shank was more of a arcade beat’em up homage, the controls were meant to be basic and used a combo system to let the player add their own variety.
In Mark of the Ninja, we pace your abilities and what we throw at you. This not only helps make sure things don’t get repetitive, but helps us really break down the wall of ‘stealth games are hard’. You’re also not going to find bullet sponge enemies. If you get caught in a gunfight, you will likely get the short end of the stick in that exchange. But on the flip side, if you stab someone with your sword, they are very much dead, haha.
The line-heavy art-style is reminiscent of Shank, too. How did the team work to giveMotN its own distinct look?
Jeff Agala is the Creative Director at Klei and the man behind the character design of Shank. You can definitely see his distinct style shine through in this title as well. Aaron Bouthillier, who worked on the character design and animation, and the rest of our art team spent a lot of time researching traditional Japanese art, history and styles. Everything from the architectural styles of buildings, to the tattoos that give you special abilities.
Lighting is also a huge factor in this game, both stylistically and as a game mechanic. Manipulating available light will help you distract enemies, conceal your movements and even change the environment. Without spoiling anything, I’m pretty confident that most fans will agree Shank as a visually appealing crips looking game, but will find Mark of the Ninja to actually be quite artistic.
What is the hardest thing about being an independent team? And what is the most rewarding?
I thought about this for a little while, and while I can only speak for myself, the most rewarding aspect of being independent is also the hardest for me. In my department that would be marketing budgets. I don’t get to play with millions upon millions of dollars to promote a game like the AAA titles. But on the flip side of that, It means we have to be more creative and we can’t just sell games on ‘hype’. We heavily rely on our games speaking for themselves through word of mouth and reviews. I use to work for an advertising agency and nothing is worse than being asked to market something that you think sucks.
I love the games we put out at Klei and find it incredibly rewarding to show them off and just talk about them with our community. If I didn’t work here, I’d probably be doing the same thing on some web forum or my own website. I love talking about gaming with people in my spare time, so it’s pretty damn rewarding that it’s my job.
Finally, what’s your most prized videogame heirloom?
Between my website and working inside the industry as a producer and a community manager, I’ve gone to a lot of conventions. I actually have a tie rack that I use to hang all the passes I’ve accumulated. And if you remember thatThe Far Side comic I mentioned before, it just makes me wish I could go back in time to show them to an eight year old me and say “this is what you do for a job when you grow up.”
Mark of the Ninja is available now on XBLA.