Stealth Bastard Deluxe is coming to Steam this month, a fully-featured update of Curve Studio’s free download title of the same 2/3rds of a name. Featuring 80 levels, an editor and global leaderboards that track your best times across all stages, it’s a generous package.

But where did the game come from? And where’s it going? And, come to mention it, where it is right now, the stealthy bastard? Hookshot Inc. caught up with Curve’s Jonathan Biddle to find out the answers to these questions as well as why Solid Snake is essentially a Chuckle Brother.

Hey Jonathan Biddle! So, like, what’s your story?

I’ve been making games professionally now for around 13 years, having started as a games designer at Blue 52 in 1999. I’ve always been someone who makes things, and originally trained as an architect. However, I just never really *loved* buildings like I do games, so I made the decision quite soon after training to switch to the games industry.

From Real Estate to Unreal, um, Engine – amirite?

Er… So, I was one of the founders of Curve, where we’ve been doing whatever we can to make interesting games for the past eight years. We’ve been fortunate enough to work with some big partners, like Sony, for whom we made the Buzz PSP games amongst other things, and Nintendo, who we made the Fluidity/ Hydroventure games for. I suspect I may be a little one-dimensional, as when I’m not directing our internal projects, I’m beavering away on various side projects in my lunch and spare time, mainly using Game Maker. This is where Explodemon! and Stealth Bastard originated. I basically can’t stop making games. Please help me.

I don’t think so but if it’s any consolation, we basically can’t stop playing them? So Stealth Bastard is coming to Steam this month! Describe your game in 15 words or fewer.

Stealth Bastard’s a cunning action stealth game that’s impossible to play without grinning and swearing.

Excellent use of apostrophes to sneak under that word limit. You’re a stealthy bastard yourself! What made you think: ‘I have to make this game?’

I guess it was borne out of the frustrations I’ve felt with various stealth games I’ve played. In games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, you’d creep around feeling all cool and superior, chuckling at the enemies’ ineptitude from the shadows as their piddly vision cones fail to spot you. Then you’d accidentally press towards a wall without the correct button of the twelve available to you pressed and fall into the light like some kind of drunken Chuckle Brother stumbling into a funeral reading.

I can totally see Solid Snake and Otacon carrying a cardboard box together while saying: ‘To me! To You!’

Then you and the enemy guards all do this merry dance around the environment where you try to hide to get back into that position of empowerment once more and back to having fun. I always hated that second stage. With Stealth Bastard, I wanted to take a razor to those elements. The high concept was Extreme Stealth; if you were spotted, you were instantly blown into pieces. I also wanted to increase the pace so that there were fewer periods where you had to wait, and remove the need for multiple buttons and complicated equipment. Faster, leaner, less complex.

That’s going to be my New Year’s resolution. Also, I think I’m going to make an attention-grabbing headline about you starting a beef with Hideo Kojima. That cool?

I also pared down the scope so that I had something I could create in my lunchtimes. Then I got carried away and included a level editor, and community level downloads, and leaderboards, and, oh my, kinda just forgot to stop.

Here’s a business question for you. *Serious face* Why have you decided to port the game to Steam when it’s already freely available on the web?

I guess I should be clear from the off; the free Stealth Bastard was really just a prototype, whereas Stealth Bastard Deluxe is a completely new, fully-featured game. It has 80 brand new levels, bosses, new gameplay elements, multiple pieces of equipment to use, a narrative, and generally a lot more polish. It will also ship with the free version’s 28 levels, and access to the existing 1,000+ community levels, as well as a brand new Deluxe-only community database. While the original free version was very successful, I never felt comfortable asking for money for it, since it always felt like a sketch to me. Therefore when we got a slot on Steam earlier this year, we decided it was a good opportunity to expand the concept, and take it much, much further. We’ve taken the approach that, while it is amazing to have 135,000 people play a free version of Stealth Bastard, it means that we have to seriously step it up to ask for money for Deluxe, so that’s what we’ve done.

Good answer. Also, excellent use of the word Deluxe. So how did you go about designing the game?

When it comes to development, I believe in making things, and not writing or talking about them – games live and die in your hands, not in the words that describe what they might be – so I work best by coming up with an idea, coding it, proving or discarding it and then moving on. In this respect, I think that being a designer-programmer is essential. Stealth Bastard was made in this fashion, by setting limitations that helped me stay focused on the core of the game (and make it in my lunch breaks), I could try ideas quickly and organically grow the game as it wanted to grow. It’s really about finding the game rather than designing it.

I’ve heard Jonathan Blow say a similar thing. Braid was a game he discovered, rather than created.

Right. I just try to let my games be what they want to be. I didn’t really take it very seriously until the game became more of an internal project and the other staff started to get involved. I mean, I called it the most placeholder name I could think of, just so that it would stay a silly little side project – and that totally backfired, because no one could think of a name they liked better!

What is your favourite moment in Stealth Bastard?

I think the humour is my favourite part of Stealth Bastard. However, instead of it being a pre-canned kind of comedy, say being expressed via dialogue, it’s more of an interactive type of humour, coming as a result of the game’s systems. The game essentially trolls the player via its level design and we somehow get away with it. You’ll find that when players mess up and are killed, they do so in fits of giggles, blaming only themselves. I just love how the game makes people laugh! It’s not a very highbrow goal for a videogame – we’re not going to get a Nuovo Award for this from the IGF – but it’s a fine goal for a videogame, nonetheless.

Did anything surprise you about players’ reactions to the original game after it came out? Did you see anyone playing the game in unexpected ways?

I love the Let’s Play videos that have sprung up on YouTube, where people laugh and swear their way through, exactly as was intended. The YouBigNonce and Total Biscuit videos especially stand out. Also funny were the people who were so suspicious of us giving the game away for free that they wouldn’t install it, claiming that it was probably spyware designed to ‘steal all their data’. Christ, the last thing I need is your data, I’ve got enough to do, thanks!

Indeed, So what’s the dream? Where are you headed next?

For me personally, I generally have too many ideas to work on, but I’d like to realise as many of those as possible. I’m usually working actively on around three or four titles at once, at various stages, and some survive, while others end up in hibernation. I’d really like to work on something much smaller for my next part-time project before trying something more ambitious again. I have an idea for a multi-touch puzzle game I’d like to try out for tablets, so I’ll probably prototype that immediately after releasing Stealth Bastard Deluxe.

As for Curve, we’ve got some interesting Stealth Bastard-related plans in the pipeline that we’re not quite ready to talk about yet, as well as some other original IP on the way. We still have a great relationship with Nintendo too that we expect to continue. We’re finding it’s a really exciting time at the moment; there are numerous ways to fund and make our own ideas, and more places to distribute them than ever. We’ve started to plot our trajectory in that direction and are looking forward to where next year takes us.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into independent game dev?

I have only one piece of advice, and that is to make something. The barriers to entry are non-existent now, so if you want to make a game, then get an engine or game development tool (there are so many!) and just make a game. Put it out there, get people (anyone) to play it, get feedback, get better. While you’re there, it’d be nice if you could also break some rules, and do unexpected things that will make people grumble about what you’ve made not being a game, but there’s no rush.