Mark of the Ninja's Getting the Special Edition Treatment

This summer, Klei Entertainment's adding a new costume, some more items, huge commentary, and a brand-new level.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Another Stab in the Dark With Mark of the Ninja: Special Edition

Lead designer Nels Anderson explains why the studio is giving the Criterion treatment to its celebrated stealth game. A new level, more items, and roughly 15,000 words of behind-the-scenes commentary.

It’s largely the nature of my job, but few games draw me into playing them a second time. I came very close with Klei Entertainment’s stellar stealth game Mark of the Ninja, and the studio’s giving me a convincing reason to jump back in with the game’s upcoming Mark of the Ninja: Special Edition.

It's easy for stealth in a video game to be a frustrating, tiresome affair, but Mark of the Ninja nailed the thrill of an assassin.

Mark of the Ninja: Special Edition is coming to Xbox Live Arcade and PC this summer. While it has a Dosun-centric level (he was the rad tattoo guy) set before the events in the main game and a new costume and items, it’s largely about a meaningful reason to play the game a second time. The new items encourage players to switch up tactics, and there’s the option to flip on a lengthy text commentary. Scattered throughout the whole game, including the new stage, are behind-the-scenes tidbits.

The added content will be delivered via DLC for a price yet unannounced.

“The mindset we had was...what would the Criterion collection version of the game look like?” said lead designer Nels Anderson in a conversation with me last week to talk about the game.

There was never a grand plan to expand upon Mark of the Ninja. Anderson and the rest of the team at Klei had a clear vision in mind, both mechanically and narratively, and planned to leave it there back in September. When the game generated such a huge response from players, the studio felt a tug.

“Maybe just before Christmas,” he said, “we were looking at what our timelines for future projects were, what everyone was working on, and after the game came out, people just sorta kept loving on it, which is still kind of mind boggling to me. It feels like we should do...something.”

That “something” became Mark of the Ninja: Special Edition, and work on it only began in earnest last month. The content is a labor of love from Anderson and environment artist Meghan Shaw. Anderson is working on the Special Edition content while also simultaneously contributing to a new, unannounced project within Klei. The summer release date gives Anderson and Shaw time to breathe.

If you read my feature on Mark of the Ninja’s development, you know tons of material was cut from the game. Items, weapons, levels, you name it, and Mark of the Ninja built it and ditched it. That said, Special Edition isn’t built on anything that’s been tossed to the side. It’s all-new stuff.

“I mean, very, very vaguely, the underpinning idea might have been something we talked about before,” said Anderson, “but this wasn’t stuff we wanted to have in the game but we had to cut, this was all stuff--new things. [...] And I was like ‘well, here’s some new ideas that deal with aspects of the game that we didn’t maybe fully explore.’ Truth be told, it’s been challenging to come up with new stuff. Everything that’s in Ninja was very, very specific and deliberate. Trying to figure out ways to have new stuff that isn’t just basically a palette swap of stuff we already got was not easy, but I think what we settled on was interesting and different.”

To that end, Special Edition’s new items--one focused on stealth, another focused on direct action--and costume are engineered to make a new style of play more enjoyable. Klei observed that players adopted a playstyle of killing everything in their path, which the game very much allows, or ignoring everything and anyone and stealthing all the way to the end. Anderson hopes these new additions will give players some options when it comes to straddling the middle, and mixing it up while learning about the game.

The new costume and items are in the new level and the main game. It’s not uncommon for developers to add new features or gameplay kinks through downloadable content, but it’s also not uncommon for those new features to be exclusively stuck in the content it was created for. Pumping that back into the main game is a whole different technical beast. It’s commendable.

“Just like when you buy the Criterion collection of a movie...well, it’s probably a movie you’ve seen and enjoy,” he said. “You’re probably not going to buy the fancy Criterion collection of a movie you’ve never seen because you think you might like it. If someone’s going to come to the game again, assuming they’ve already played it, we should offer them as many new things as possible.”

Perhaps most interesting for players interested in better understanding game development will be the commentary. Anderson described it as closer to what 30 Flights of Loving developer Brendon Chung implements--in other words, text-based--rather than the ambitious and audio-focused material Valve has in its games. There was consideration made about an audio commentary, but the small team at Klei, not the mention the cost of recording that much audio, made it unwieldy. Instead, Anderson put out a call to the entire Mark of the Ninja development team, and asked them to contribute tidbits into a spreadsheet.

The result is something like 15,000 words about Mark of the Ninja’s development, which includes the new stage. Anderson actually wrote up his commentary on the new stage as he was building it, which allowed him to acutely illustrate the process of making the game’s stages.

The amount of text was so overwhelming that Klei wasn’t sure how it would be able to translate it into the other languages Mark of the Ninja was released in. Klei asked its fans to pitch in, and people reached out it Anderson’s reasonably confident the commentary will be available in language others than English.

When he initially looked back at Mark of the Ninja, the process of level development didn’t seem that clear, but working on the commentary helped crystallize how the game came together.

“The actual step-by-step process of it in my head was hazy,” he said. "Going back to it now and the only thing I have really to do [with the Special Edition] is make this level, so mainlining that was horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. Prior to this process, someone asked ‘how do you build the levels?’ I don’t know. We figure out what they are and what they’re supposed to be and make some encounters and try some stuff. And while that’s still true to a smaller degree, when you sit down and think through it, it’s basically ‘this stuff needs to be done, this stuff needs to be done.’ A ton of it is small housekeeping things that don’t seem like a big deal, but in terms of the final look and feel polish stuff, this is the shit that makes a difference. It was interesting and harrowing at the same time. How did we ever do this to begin with?”

If someone’s going to come to the game again, assuming they’ve already played it, we should offer them as many new things as possible.

Perhaps besides the ending, Mark of the Ninja’s story was effective by virtue of its efficiency. There was enough to provide intrigue and motivation, but if you had no interest in engaging with it, you didn’t have to. If, like me, you enjoyed the world it painted, there’s a bit more to fill in the gaps here. But Anderson was quick to say the new content is not necessary to understand what happened in Mark of the Ninja. It’s not cashing in on a cliffhanger, and Anderson’s proud of how the game ended.

Dosun's popularity, however, was unexpected. Players responded in a big way to Dosun, so it was the first character Anderson and the team thought of when it came to expanding upons the story.

“Even though he only has maybe a dozen lines in the entire game, Mike Dobson, the guy who did the voice acting for it, he just injected a ton of personality into that character that wasn’t necessarily there,” he said. “Mike is really, really good at giving things a little bit more verve that could be flat if just performed rote by another actor.”

Given that we’re some months out from the Special Edition’s launch, a price hasn’t been decided yet, but Klei told me it doesn’t intend to break the bank, given this content is aimed at the stealthy faithful.

I’ll let you know what I think of it after checking out at PAX.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
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Posted by InertiaXr

If I already own Mark of the Ninja on Steam do I have to buy this again or will it be a free patch?

Edited by Hameyadea

Where can I get it now? Can't wait

Posted by Neox

more mark of the ninja is not a bad thing

Edited by leejunfan83


Posted by cooljammer00

Hmm, age gate.

Posted by warpr

If I already own Mark of the Ninja on Steam do I have to buy this again or will it be a free patch?

Or DLC (which would be fine with me, Mark of the Ninja is brilliant, I don't mind giving them a few extra dollars).

Posted by Phatmac


Posted by DTS

@warpr said:

@inertiaxr said:

If I already own Mark of the Ninja on Steam do I have to buy this again or will it be a free patch?

Or DLC (which would be fine with me, Mark of the Ninja is brilliant, I don't mind giving them a few extra dollars).

Those were my thoughts exactly.

Even if it ends up as a separate release, some games have allowed you to digitally upgrade your existing version to a "Collector's Version" after release, even through Steam. This may get the same treatment. I'd like to see that trend continue, as it allows you to get a taste of the game before you shell out a larger amount of scratch for a Collector's Edition.

Posted by The_Ruiner

I loved this game..but I'm not buying a whole new version of it again, just to play one new level... I'd hope they'd make a DLC add on...

Posted by patrickklepek

Sorry if it wasn't clear in the story--I added a line. It'll be DLC.

Edited by Brutakas

Now I'm glad I didn't re-buy the game on Steam. That said, I know that the game had incentives for not killing enemies but the resulting score was never on par with killing everyone + hiding bodies. I hope that the new middle ground method will be at least as effective score-wise as killing everyone + hiding bodies.

Posted by graf1k

As long as there is an upgrade path for people who already have the game, I'm in.

Posted by Nekroskop

How about they make the DLC free for steam?

Edited by Landon

Still need to get that achievement for beating this on hard, and that other one for maxing out all the items. Damn, Mark of the Ninja was an awesome game.

Edited by Scarlet_Rogue

I loved Mark of the Ninja...but I was kinda done with it once I did everything. There's nothing more I want from that title.

Edited by yoshimitz707

@ahaisthisourchance: Why would they do that? They're a small studio and stuff like this costs money to make. They can't afford give stuff away like Valve does.

Posted by Brashnir

Thumbnail is a subliminal Decepticon recruitment.

Posted by mellotronrules

good on them for offering it as dlc as opposed to a separate retail package.

Posted by Phished0ne


Edited by AMyggen

How about they make the DLC free for steam?

Because they're a small business that can't afford doing stuff like that?

Posted by yyZiggurat

I haven't finished this game yet. Maybe I'll just wait for the rerelease.

Edited by DoctorMatazawa

Mark of the Ninja is one of the few games I think that I'd happily buy any DLC for, just because I want to give the developers more money.

Posted by Nals

I'm cool with buying it.

Just please, for the love of everything holy, make it an upgrade. I don't want another "Mark of the Ninja" "Mark of the Ninja Special Edition" issue coming up with Steam. One game is enough.

Posted by Moncole

This was my GOTY. I need the DLC/

Edited by MrHadouken

I'd like to see Mark of the ninja, Fez and dust an elysian tail on a disc. I'd gladly pay $30 for it.

Edited by Sessh

This is great news, any excuse to play through this game again is a good thing.

Edited by Seb

Awesome game.

Posted by LarryDavis

A nonlethal takedown is always the most silent takedown.

Edited by Humanity

I don't know if you were tired or in a rush but you should really re-read parts of that article Patrick. I don't mean to be a dick, I just got caught up in some loops here and there. (for exampe: Perhaps besides the ending, Mark of the Ninja’s story was by effective by virtue of its efficiency.)

I did love the game but not sure if I want to buy it so soon all over again just for some text commentary and a new level. Maybe if owners of the original game get it pretty cheap, but not going to pay $15 all over again despite it being an amazing game.

Edited by Superfriend

Cool, I´m down for a special ish-dishen of this fantastic game!

One of the best games of 2012. Needs more reasons for people to pick it up.

Posted by OleMarthin

almost want to buy it again to support it. was my game of the year 2012. and one of the best stealth games i have ever played.

Posted by Tidel

Fantastic. Such an incredible game.

I only wish I could get it for Vita. I want it close to me always.

Posted by prestonhedges

Criterion? So it'll be overpriced?

Edited by QKT
Posted by Rolyatkcinmai

I'd like to see Mark of the ninja, Fez and dust an elysian tail on a disc. I'd gladly pay $30 for it.

Why would you do that?

Posted by MrHadouken

@rolyatkcinmai: Just personally I like a tangible copy, it's the reason I waited to see if they were going to put The Walking Dead on a disc before I bought the first episode.

Edited by CrossTheAtlantic

@prestonhedges said:

Criterion? So it'll be overpriced?

Ah, I don't think Criterion is that overpriced. Generally, a lot of care goes into the transfers and packaging, and a lot of the extra are really great. Though, yeah, if you're paying for them full price then they're cray cray expensive.

Edited by ArtisanBreads

This is a really long article that doesn't say much.

Why not give any indication as to what the items are?

Posted by Mesoian

3rd best game of last year is getting a GOTY edition? I'll double dip when that hits steam.

I feel bad, I wanted to make a video for this game, but never ended up doing it.

Edited by CircleNine

I'd love to go back to Mark of the Ninja, it was one of the few games that I've ever bothered getting all of the achievements on just because it was such a fun game. Eagerly looking forward to this DLC so I can get back into it.

Posted by AssInAss

This is the best stealth game of this whole generation. I loved the commentary style for 30 Flights of Loving, can't wait to get back into this!

Edited by Stinky51012

GB got pretty butt hurt over this game. It was ok. Not great, but just ok.

Posted by MysteriousBob

Mark of the Ninja was a very good game but one of the best of 2012? Pffft, no.

Edited by YummyTreeSap

@prestonhedges said:

Criterion? So it'll be overpriced?

Nah, Criterion stuff isn't overpriced, they're just for a certain type of person. A shit ton of work and care go into Criterion releases. Buying a Criterion release is a pretty good guarantee that you're getting the best transfer (seriously, look up the work that they put into that sort of thing), packaging, translations if applicable, special features, &c.

Maybe that stuff doesn't appeal to everyone, but for film nerds such as myself it's totally worth the extra $10–20.

Posted by Gimpy

Oh man, I adored this game so much - shameless shitty internet boast, but I worked my way up to 20th on the worldwide leaderboards at one point and I never EVER bother with leaderboard stuff, but this game just really hooked me, I loved playing it over and over and trying out different styles. I always hoped they'd drop some DLC for it, but never thought it would actually happen. Super excited

Edited by ChernobylCow

Whoa, there's a huge fucking article attached to this. I thought it was just going to be a video.

Edited by Zippedbinders

GB got pretty butt hurt over this game. It was ok. Not great, but just ok.

I don't think you know what "butthurt" means.

Edited by klinkcow

100%-ed this game, and I'll be glad to do it again.

Posted by shinluis

Still no Mac or PSN how the hell am I going to play this thing??? :C

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