rAge 2014 home_coded: Agent Unseen


Rage 2014 has long since come and gone, but for the writers at NAG we’re still sifting through all of the great items seen at the show. One of the best was the home_coded stand, dedicated to the works of local game development talent, and what a mix of titles there was on offer! Point-and-click adventures, music/rhythm, espionage, alien lobotomies – it ran the gamut. It was a vibrant gaming menagerie, and the developers are every bit as interesting as their games.

We’ll be publishing a series of articles focusing on some of these local devs and their upcoming games; if you’re joining us late and want to catch up on the entire series, simply click the following link: home_coded 2014.

Agent Unseen may have snuck its way quietly onto the home_coded stand, but certainly didn’t go unnoticed. A top-down stealth-driven roguelike-like, in Agent Unseen players attempt to achieve such lofty goals as hacking the mainframe, assassinating the traitorous guard and filing their taxes. Currently quite abstract in its presentation, it nevertheless proves to be a difficult and ever-changing challenge thanks to the various pickups you can find that carry over from map to map — items such as padded shoes, cloaking and smoke bombs change the dynamic constantly.

Leon van Niekerk and Francois van Niekerk of Clockwork Acorn

“Internally, we’ve been aiming for an over-the-top James Bond feel: breaking into volcano bases or underwater lairs. Think Austin Powers, but not as slapstick; Evil Genius is probably a good analogy,” says Leon van Niekerk, one of the founders and developers at Clockwork Acorn, the studio behind Agent Unseen. While he’s quick to state that the theme and final artistic style is still very much in the air, Francois van Niekerk — another founder/developer — stresses that it’s the gameplay that they’re hoping really communicates with the player.

“It’s about how the fundamental principle of stealth is communicated via the roguelike elements,” he explains. “So the fact that there’s permadeath, for example, means you have to be stealthy, you can’t run and gun. We’re also relying on procedural generation, so every time you play through, it’s different.” Each playthrough is a single run, relying on a mix of skill and item combos to allow you to achieve the game’s various objectives.

It’s very stark graphically at the moment, but there’s been a focus on getting the game mechanics right first. “We’re not looking to make a game, although if we weren’t interested we wouldn’t be doing it,” says Leon. “We want to establish a game company, and that means we have to be precious with our time and with what we implement. It’s a lot easier to change the graphics for a great game; it’s a different story entirely to have to change existing art you created for a game that turns out to be mediocre.”

Agent Unseen

Clockwork Acorn have methodically been generating interest in their work through several prototypes, including Agent Unseen which caught a bit of traction with the Make Games SA community. “That feedback has been useful,” says Francois, “interacting with developers. We showed Agent Unseen at A MAZE [as well], and the developers helped us out, because they’re honest. I’d rather someone say our idea is crap than lie to me.”

“Ultimately, we’re merging two difficult genres to make a challenging game. If you’re frustrated but challenged, we think that’s a good thing, so don’t run off immediately when you die on your first run.”

“To tag onto what you’ve said,” adds Francois, “there’s already some player skill required. You can get better at the game. And we want players’ feedback. Whenever we show off the game, we want to hear what they like and don’t like about it.”

You heard them. Give it a run and let them know what you think in the comments.